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

Our history is replete with examples of discrimination against various groups. When each group stood up for itself, it contributed to the evolution of social justice in this country, and entrenched itself into the Canadian mosaic. This is what is happening with Canadian Muslims and Arabs now.

Diane Schweik, Edmonton: I would like to ask Ms. Khan why Muslims demand tolerance from others when they themselves are so intolerant towards others? Mild criticism of her faith can be met with threats of harm and even death. Non-Muslims can find it difficult or impossible to practise their faith in Muslim countries. Acceptance and tolerance is a two-way street.

Sheema Khan: Diane, thank you for your observations.

First of all, I don't agree with your generalizations regarding Muslims as being intolerant. Historical facts, and current studies do not support that. Just yesterday, the British Home Office released a study showing Muslim high school students to be far more tolerant than their non-Muslim counterparts.

Nonetheless, there are a few Muslim countries that do curtail non-Muslim religious practice. These are the exception, rather than the norm.

David Pollack, Toronto: Considering all the controversy surrounding the veil in Europe, and the current wave of "integration and assimilation," do you feel that the veil is dividing the Canadian Muslim community into those who have integrated (i.e. do not wear the veil) and those who have not integrated (i.e. do wear the veil)? In addition, given the security and safety issues, how realistic is it to require ALL Canadians to fully show their faces for government documentation (passports, drivers licence, OHIP, etc.)

Sheema Khan: Thank you, David.

First, I don't think the veil is as divisive within the community as some would like to think. We all realize, that in the post 9/11 era, all Muslims - veiled or not - are under the microscope. If anything, there has been a coming together of sorts.

As to the second question, yes, I think all Canadians should be required to show their faces on identity cards.

George B., Lebanon: It is my understanding that the veil and the various forms of dress for Muslim women was a pre-Islamic practice in the Arabian Peninsula where it was mainly reserved for wealthy women as a symbol of social status. Since it was only wealthy women who could afford luxurious fabrics to fashion the veils with, the practice was not widespread until the emergence of the Islamic empire . . . and emphasized the notion of class separation. So my question is: Since Muslims believe in social equality amongst all people, why was the veil adopted as a prominent symbol for the religion. Thank you for your time.

Sheema Khan: "Marhaba," George.

The veil is also based on religious jurisprudence. Many Islamic scholars believe the veil is part of the belief system, based on their interpretations of the Koran and the authentic traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.

Marge Buckholtz, Kingston, Ont: I do think Muslims need to make more effort to fit into Canadian society, whether the issue is veils or not. I will give you one example: I used to talk to a Muslim woman who regularly passed my house with her child. I could see that she enjoyed the chance to practice her English. However, one day she passed the house with her husband and looked right past me, and never spoke again. I am sure that her husband had forbidden her to talk to me and probably other Canadians. What other group of new Canadians would take such an attitude?

Sheema Khan: Hi, Marge. It's too bad that the two of you never spoke again. I also wonder why you would assume that her silence was due to her husband. Perhaps she was having a bad day.

I'll give you a personal example. A few years ago, we were at the airport to see my husband off for his pilgrimmage to Mecca. I was tired, and lagged behind him in the airport. I immediately realized that people would assume that this was another example of a Muslim woman walking several paces behind her husband. So I quickly caught up.

Here are a few questions: Why take an attitude that assumes the worst about Muslims? Why generalize?

Black Adder, Toronto: Hello Ms. Khan. I enjoy your articles, although we do have some differences of opinion. As a global-village citizen, I feel there are so many bigger issues to get all in a knot about than this one.

As a Muslim, I have one point to make on this subject and a question for you. I don't agree with the niqab but do believe in the right of the woman to wear it, provided it is her choice.

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