Editor, The News:
Re: ‘It’s about a woman’s choice’ (Letters, Oct. 20).
Rarely has a garment stimulated such conversation at all levels of society, from the man on the street to the prime minister, to the Supreme Court, to political candidates, and news correspondents.
This single article of clothing has been debated much more so than it should.
The first and biggest misconception is of its origins. There is no scholarly Islamic evidence of it being a requirement for Muslim women. It is simply a cultural trend that has survived longer than it should.
In Islam, the stipulations for women’s attire are that it be modest, not revealing, not form fitting, and that it covers the body from the ankles up and out to the wrists and the hair. That’s it. That’s all that the Quran and Sunna (teachings and practices of the Prophet Mohamed) stipulate.
The face covering is a garment that was worn by women in the Arabian Peninsula long before the revelation of Islam.
The face cover served to protect the women’s faces from the sun; fair skin was and is considered to be a sign of status and wealth.
Living in the desert in the 600s with sand being blown in one’s face, even the men resorted to face covering by wrapping their head dress around to protect their skin from the sand, sun, and heat of the desert.
Once Islam was introduced into the culture and Muslims began traveling to and interacting with other cultures under the banner of Islam, the face cover became more and more associated with the religion Islam and less so with Arabian culture. This simple misconception is the reason why the Taliban imposed the burqa on Afghani women during their rule, and why we considered this garment while voting for the next prime minister of Canada.
Knowing the origins of the niqab then allows one to have a better understanding of the issue at hand today with the elections. Various culturally-inspired garments exist in Canadian society today, for example the Scottish kilt.
The two occasions that are at issue are the citizenship swearing-in ceremony and in a government workplace.
The citizenship swearing-in ceremony is when one pledges allegiance to a new country, a country in which they have resided for a number of years, a country to which one has willingly applied for citizenship and demonstrated the requirements set by the government of that country.
In Canada, being a democracy, the government is representative of the society. Therefore, by one having a successful application for Canadian citizenship, one is not simply meeting the requirements set out by a government, but meeting requirements set out by society.
Canadian society is by far one of the better societies in the developed world. It is a mosaic of various cultures coming together to create what is defined today as Canadian.
Such a definition is dynamic and will undoubtedly change and adapt as per social trends.
At a ceremony when one is meant to demonstrate their Canadianness (if there’s such a term), one ought to take the opportunity to truly embrace Canada whole-heartedly. Much as would not be socially acceptable for one to participate in a citizenship swearing-in ceremony wearing the flag of another country, the niqab is an affront to Canadian culture and society.
The second occasion of a government workplace is also no place for cultural expression that is not part of Canada, let alone one society itself frowns upon.
The reasons for this are that women and men are viewed by Canadian society to be equal, and one would not feel comfortable dealing with a male government employee whose face is covered. Not to mention that almost all workplaces have a professional dress code that one must adhere to. Professional dress codes do not allow short shorts to be worn at the workplace.
Face covering should also not be allowed.
Some will argue that a Sikh turban is equivalent to a niqab and if one is allowed, so should the other.
It is absolutely not as the Sikh turban, which is part of the religion, whereas the niqab is strictly part of a culture.
Head covers are embraced by numerous religions; the pope wears a head cover, as do nuns, orthodox Jewish men and women, Sikhs, Muslims, and almost anyone who is religious. None cover the face.