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Sheema Khan on Muslims, the veil and fitting into Western societies Add to ...

Sheema Khan: Thank you, Catherine, for your thoughts. Yes, we believe that God made women and men in the best of moulds. And, the All-Knowing Creator, in our belief system, has provided guidance for us as to how best to attain happiness. Modest behaviour is ascribed to both men and women, while God-consciousness is described as the best raiment in the Koran. The key is to treat each other with dignity and respect. Yes, our hair is beautiful, and forms part of our beauty. But I don't believe in sharing all aspects of this beauty with everyone. There is a wonderful hip-hop ballad called "I am not my hair," with the refrain "I am the soul within." I can relate to these lyrics.

Archie Halliwell, Halifax: The wearing of the niqab or the burka should be banned in Canada. I realize this infringes on religious freedom . . . [and]it may be politically correct to say that this is a country that embraces everyone. But there has to be a limit somewhere.

Sheema Khan: Thank you, Archie, for your forthright comments.

The question is: Who decides on the limits? In our constitional democracy, it is the courts. But aside from legal arguments, we, as Canadians, should always discuss what values are central to our identity. These may evolve over time. But by all means, let's arrive at a consensus in harmony with our values of tolerance and inclusiveness.

Michael Russo: I am proud that Canada is a multicultural country. Although I am an open-minded person, I find it hard to understand each diverse culture. I grew up in a Canada where it was hard to find a black person. Once we were used to seeing this type of Canadian more frequently, I became accustomed to them. I don't want to make it sound like I am referring to this race only, because I am not. I also am not naive enough to think Canada doesn't need more ethnic people. Diversity is what makes Canada so great. Unfortunately, world events make us look at ethnic Canadians in a different light, whoever they are and wherever they are from. I want to believe that everyone of our people are Canadians first and whatever their background is next. I want to understand why you would like people to think that you are still trying to segregate yourselves from the mainstream by not integrating yourselves more fully as a Canadian. This is exactly what makes people edgy. Please help me understand.

Sheema Khan: Thank you, Michael, for your insights. You mention a key point - namely, knowledge and familiarity of people.

In this day and age of "edginess," it becomes all the more important for us to reach out to each other, in order to understand and appreciate our common humanity.

Muslims are people like everyone else. We pay taxes, and complain about them. We raise our famiiles here. We work, go to school, etc. What does it mean to integrate more fully? Participation in society is pretty much an individual choice. Look at the Hassidic and Amish communities.

Finally, it would not be a stretch of the imagination to say that a veiled Muslim woman and her bearded husband - Monia Mazigh and Maher Arar - have strenghthened our Canadian democracy by courageously standing up against the excesses of our security agencies.

Michael Peters, Toronto: Per my understanding, the veil is not a tenant of the Muslim religion since the Koran merely states that men and women should dress modestly. Therefore, this is not a religious issue but a cultural one. Some civil libertarians have come out swinging on the side of those who chose to wear the veil under the guise of freedom of religion: This is a free society so you can wear whatever you want without consequence.

If this is the case, what if I, as a 31-year-old white agnostic male, would like to start wearing a veil in an effort to dress more modestly? Should I too, expect these same people to defend my right to veil myself? After all, isn't this country all about acceptance and non-discrimination? I should fully expect my employer and the rest of society to respect my choice, right? If this sounds ridiculous, explain to me why it would be acceptable for some members of our society to veil themselves while not being acceptable for others.

Sheema Khan: Hi, Michael. You raise some interesting points.

In theory, yes, your right as an agnostic male to veil yourself is enshrined in our Charter. You may face discrimination along the way [as many veiled Muslims do when going for job interviews] but you have the tools to fight it.

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