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

Sheema Khan: Thanks for the interesting insights, Mary.

True, the hijab and niqab do stand out here. But the objective is to be as modest as possible in public. And, yes, some of us like to be fashionable in our modesty, by choosing scarves that match exquistely with the rest of our attire. I guess the key is to find the balance.

Jason Wright, Ottawa: Sheema, thanks for being strong enough to take questions on this topic.

I know that numerous Westerners are concerned with people who are different from themselves - the veil being but one difference.

But isn't the root of the problem a demographic one? All Western nations are in decline because of extraordinarily low birth rates. And because of this, we need large numbers of immigrants in order to provide skilled labour and taxes, which we need for our lucrative social programs and services. Should we not be thankful for people wearing veils in the sense that it shows us that these people are here to pay for our benefits and do much of the necessary work which has to be done?

Sheema Khan: Thank you, Jason, for raising the raison d'etre for immigration. It is primarily a tool to maintain the economic standards of so many European nations and Canada.

The European countries have treated immigrants as "guest workers" - either segregating them into banlieus, or expecting them not to stay for too long.

In Canada, our policy has shifted to the "points" system, whereby skills, education and financial entrepeneurship are sought. Nonetheless, we seriously need to think of immigrants as active participants in nation-building, and not just sources of labour to maintain our living standards.

Shawn B., Toronto: I must agree with Margaret Wente with regard to her views on the niqab and I would be hard-pressed to believe an argument to the contrary. The full veil is just that - a wall, a division, between the woman and the outside world. It states that she is someone's property, and they do not wish her to be displayed. Is it fair for a person to cover herself from our view and not expect some to think it is strange or alien?

Sheema Khan: Shawn, I agree with part of what you say, and disagree elsewhere.

First, please don't assume that a woman who wears the full veil sees herself as someone else's property. Many of the niqabis I know are quite assertive and have strong personalities. They view themselves as servants of God - not their husbands. Finally, it is understandable for people who are unaccostomed to the full veil to view it as strange. That's only human.

Avril Deloeuvre: Hello, Ms. Khan. Do Muslim women choose freely to wear the niqab or because their "choice" is severely constrained by family and community expectation? Does dressing decently equate becoming completely anonymous?

Sheema Khan: Hi, Avril. I don't have any hard data on this. It varies. But most of the women I have met, have freely adopted the niqab - in some cases against the wishes of their family. But I cannot deny that in some circles, external pressures from family may exist. Also, anonymity is not the issue. Rather, many niqabis believe that they are emulating the wives of Prophet Muhammad, who are regarded as the best examples.

Pradhan Prabhakara, Toronto: Why don't Muslim men also cover their face or hair just like women?

Sheema Khan: Thank you, Pradhan.

The injunction for modes attire is found in the primary sources of Islam - the Koran and the authentic traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. As far as I know [and my knowledge on this is limited] a man's modest dress should not accentuate his body. However, he is not required to cover his face or hair. However, in parts of the Arab world, you will see men covering their heads in public.

Jim Sheppard, Executive Editor, globeandmail.com: Ms. Khan, thank you again for taking the time this afternoon to discuss such an important topic from your unique perspective. Any last thoughts?

Sheema Khan: I would like to thank all of the readers who took the time to provide such insightful questions and comments.

We need to continue such dialogue, especially in times like these. We are all part of the human familiy. Let's not be afraid of one another. Let's get to know one another.

Jim Sheppard, Executive Editor, globeandmail.com: To our readers: And thank you for submitting almost 100 questions for Ms. Khan. That's a strong testimony to the public interest in this issue. We're sorry we could not get to all of them.

If I may add a personal note, I was also very impressed with the high quality of the questions you submitted on such a sensitive topic.

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