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

For the Margaret Wentes and Tony Blairs of the world who find it offensive, I liken it to the same-sex marriage debate - nothing more than prejudice veiled as some grander religious or social concern.

Do you agree with this analogy? If so, then do you find it ironic that the conservative Muslims, the primary supporters of the niqab, wish to gain acceptance/to be left alone, yet are the very same group who are the most vocal about issues such as same-sex marriage and promoting women's rights? How can you have it both ways?

Sheema Khan: Great question! I have grappled with this question, along with many of my friends. The answer, I believe, lies in reciprocity. In particular, it lies in Section 15 of our Charter. This is the section that protects against discrimination. One cannot ask to be protected from discrimination, while denying that very right to other members of society. Also, Muslims are required to abide by the law of the land. In this case, the Charter.

Karin Pasnak, North Vancouver: Why would anyone care if a Muslim woman has a veil on? I just don't understand it at all. It sure does not take anything away from me if that is what they feel they have to do. Are we asking Jewish men to remove their scull caps? I actually think they look rather silly.

Sheema Khan: Thank you, Karin. Personal feelings aside, your comments go to the heart of our great multicultural project. Let's live together based on broad, inclusive principles. We may not necessarily agree with particular choices of religious apparel, but so long as they do not harm anyone, why ban them?

Kate L.: I am doing a research paper on "The Place of Women in the Islamic World." Any comments?

Sheema Khan: Hi, Kate. I would highly recommend the book "Gender, Women and Islam" by Harvard's Leila Ahmad. I may have the title wrong but it's similar at least.

Henry Allen, Toronto: Thank you, I very much appreciate this opportunity to speak openly. As I understand, there is nothing in the Koran specifying women must be veiled. So, the veil appears to be a cultural adaptation that arose from a belief that women must bear responsibility for men's sexual desires and, thus, women must cover up . . .

Frankly, I don't get it. Why would someone who must wear a veil immigrate to a country like Canada to live as an isolated, fully covered small island in a perceived sea of sinners? We have no intention of changing our culture to accept Islamic values about sexuality and personal responsibility.

Sheema Khan: Henry, thanks for your observations.

The topic of sexuality and personal responsiblity is quite deep, and deserves a proper hearing. Unfortunately that can't be accomplished in this forum. However, I would like to address your generalizations.

First of all, many would argue that there is a basis for the veil in the Koran and the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad.

Next, many women who do immigrate to Canada, actually take off their headscarves, veils etc, since they no longer feel the necessity of wearing it in a non-Muslim cultural environment.

In fact, it is primarily women who have been born and raised in Canada, who are choosing to cover in increasing numbers - based on their belief that this is an act of devotion to God. They see it as their responsibility to follow God's commands as best they can. Nothing more, nothing less.

Finally, there are a few who take that responsibility as including not tempting men. I don't agree with that. Men have their own personal responsibility to behave and act modestly.

Mary Marino, Saskatoon: Four decades ago, it was entirely common to see fully-veiled Roman Catholic nuns going about in the U.S. and in Canada. When I was an undergraduate, I had a Muslim friend from Pakistan who asked me about them in tones of shock and disapproval. He was as chilled by veils and wimples as Margaret Wente reports herself to be by the niqab.

I feel the same about multiple face-piercings, but I find the niqab a lot less-distressing than lip rings and tongue studs.

There is a paradox in this, though, and I would like to hear an explanation. The niqab and hijab make the wearer more conspicuous in North American public contexts, not less. How does this serve the cause of modesty? Women wearing the hijab are sometimes strikingly beautiful and, to me, their garb accentuates their beauty rather than hiding or detracting from it. It certainly rivets attention. Surely this is not the intent of either scripture or Muslim tradition?

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