Editorial: The Niqab Debate

The woman who fought for her right to wear a niqab was able to do so during her oath ceremony earlier this month.

The battle of the sexes, or perhaps more accurately, the inequality between men and women, continues to be an issue in this country; a country we like to believe is the land of equal opportunity and respect. However, it’s 2015 and women in Canada are still fighting for their rights.

In recent news, the issue of whether or not Muslim women should be allowed to wear a niqab during oath ceremonies has been a hot topic among party leaders this election race.

The niqab – a veil worn by some Muslim woman to cover all of the face except the eyes – is part of what some believe to be a religious must. There is debate in the Muslim community about whether or not it’s a religious necessity, with some arguing it’s a way to oppress women.

Zunera Ishaq, the Ontario woman who won court battles affirming her right to wear her niqab during her oath ceremony, is of a different opinion and said she does believe it’s a part of her religion to wear the niqab. She said no one ever forced her to wear it; it was her choice.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s insensitive words against the niqab and a woman’s right to wear it during ceremonies (which is crucial, as those who wear it believe they must wear it in public at all times) have created a sense of unrest for those in the Muslim community.

In an interview on CBC’s The Current, Zunera said when she moved to Mississauga in 2008, she felt welcomed by the community, but ever since Harper’s comments, she has been faced with racism and bigotry from her peers.

Earlier this year, Zeena Mubarak, on her Muslim Girl blog, said she understands that some women around the world are forced to wear a niqab or hijab, but said the solution isn’t to ban the garment, as the cloth itself is not the problem.

“Harper is doing precisely what he claims the niqab is doing,” she wrote. “He is oppressing women and trying to control how they dress. Forcing a woman to take off a garment is actually just as bad as forcing her to put it on.”

I agree with Mubarak’s point. In Canada, we welcome immigrants into our country and grant them the same liberties and freedoms we all enjoy. One of the fundamental freedoms stated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the “freedom of conscience and religion”.

By suggesting he would consider bringing in anti-veil legislation, Harper has opened the door to racism. Muslim candidates are now having their campaign signs vandalized with racial slurs.

Even former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador Danny Williams, who led his Progressive Conservative government from 2003-2010, called Harper’s comments about the niqab “borderline racist”. He’s even encouraging those who want to vote for the Conservatives to either vote for someone else, or stay home on Election Day, calling Harper “a lousy prime minister who’s divisive”.

Why now is Harper bringing up the issue of the niqab? Perhaps this is merely a smoke-and-mirrors tactic to take the spotlight away from the issues that could cause him to lose this election, namely the current state of the economy and the way he’s handled First Nations issues. Whatever the reasons may be, Harper does not represent the views of the majority of voters. Canadians, by and large, believe in tolerance, respect and acceptance and should expect nothing less from the leader of the country.