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

For the past two weeks, the image of Islam's most iconic symbol, the black veil drawn across the face, has been plastered all over British television and newspapers.

But it gained new urgency Tuesday when Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair waded in, calling the veil a "mark of separation" that makes others feel uncomfortable, as Hamida Ghafour reports in her story in Wednesday's Globe U.K. targets the veil, and critics are asking why

The debate is not limited to Britain, however.

Globe columnist Margaret Wente stirred up a hornet's nest last week in her column Let's raise the veil on veils when she wrote: "To me, the niqab - the face veil - is deeply alienating. Yes, I know some women wear it out of choice, and some say it gives them freedom. But to me, it's a powerful symbol of cultural separation and gender oppression. Am I wrong to feel so uneasy? Who should adapt - the veiled ones, or me?"

Both Blair and Wente touched off furious reaction. But little has been heard from Muslim women who choose to dress in accord with the Koran's advice to both men and women to dress "modestly."

So we at globeandmail.com are pleased that Globe columnist Sheema Khan is on-line with us now until 3 p.m. EDT to take your questions on the issue.

Join the Conversation or submit a question or comment . Your questions and her answers appear at the bottom of this page.

Ms. Khan writes a monthly column for the Comment Page of The Globe and Mail on issues pertaining to Muslims and Islam.

In her column today No veiled threat Ms. Khan writes: "The niqab has been in the news recently, often in the most unflattering terms. These new WMDs (women in Muslim dress) seem to evoke the same fear once reserved for real WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) . . . Few (critics) have taken the time to understand the issue from veiled women themselves.

"I respect women who wear the niqab. At Harvard, after much spiritual reflection, I donned the hijab (headscarf) and also tried the niqab - for all of one hour. I found it stifling and unnatural. Yet others don't. And their choice should be respected."

Some of the topics Ms. Khan has tackled recently include:

Why our actions abroad anger so many

We all have to confront contempt for 'the other'

Muslims must work twice as hard to counter extremism

Ms. Khan came to Montreal from India at the age of 3. She obtained a Masters degree in physics and a Ph.D. in chemical physics from Harvard.

She writes: "It was at Harvard that I embarked on a spiritual quest which led me to strenghthening my devotion to Islam. It was at Harvard that I began to wear the hijab (headscarf), after much research and reflection.

She returned to Canada to work in R&D for a pharmaceutical firm and is an inventor of a number of patented inventions in drug delivery. After that, she worked at a couple of law firms in intellectual property law. She is a certified patent agent, acting as a consultant with a law firm in Ottawa.

Ms. Khan also served as chair of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN), a grassroots advocacy group from 2000-2005.

She is married, with three small children.

Editor's Note: globeandmail.com editors will read and allow or reject each question/comment. Comments/questions may be edited for length, clarity or relevance. HTML is not allowed. We will not publish questions/comments that include personal attacks on Globe journalists, the guests or participants in these discussions, or questions/comments that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions/comments that include vulgar language or libellous statements. Preference will be given to readers who submit questions/comments using their full name and home town, rather than a pseudonym.

Jim Sheppard, Executive Editor, globeandmail.com: Good afternoon, Ms. Khan, and thank you very much for joining us today to discuss this fascinating and - now - controversial issue.

In your column in today's Globe, you wrote: "At Harvard, after much spiritual reflection, I donned the hijab (headscarf) and also tried the niqab - for all of one hour. I found it stifling and unnatural."

Our readers have a large number of questions for you about the niqab and how it is perceived in the West. Before we get to those, I'd like to ask you to talk a bit more about the spiritual reflection at Harvard that led you to don the hijab and to follow the path you now follow in Islam.

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