The Niqab – Yes or No?

Note: The following article expresses the views of the author and may not represent the views of all HAAM members.

niqabI have no use for any religion – to me, Islam and Christianity are on equal playing fields. I think both are equally dangerous, and both have done tremendous harm to humanity. Without going too far into church history (and I could go back to the early days and start from there; it’s rife with bloodshed and evil), I’m going to point to the last 100 years – the very recent treatment of Aboriginals in Canada. The massacre and genocide of so many native children was directly done in the name of God. And that was mainstream Christianity – we’re not even talking about extremism. Present day, there are still extremist groups that are violent and dangerous. They’re not as profiled as often as Muslim religions are, but they exist, and they’re doing huge amounts of damage. I address this recent phenomenon as “Islamophobia” because that’s what it’s called, but it’s really not fear/hatred of the religion – it’s actually pure racism. If there were this level of hatred/fear/mistrust against Caucasians called “Christianityphobia”, I would definitely have the same reaction. Racism, however it’s disguised, is NEVER OK.

Christians like to complain that there’s hatred for Christianity, but what it really is, is disagreement, and calling out the fact that Christians have been using their privilege to wield their power and beliefs on everyone else. Historically, Christians have enjoyed an imbalance of power in Canadian society, and that imbalance is now being straightened out, which means that the privilege/power is being lost. Naturally, that’s uncomfortable, and I can understand how it feels like persecution/hatred, but it’s not. It’s just leveling out the playing field for everyone. If you’re Christian, nobody is challenging your right to believe and worship as you would like. Nobody is telling you to go back to your home country unless you completely assimilate and become like the majority of Canadian society. Nobody is telling you to remove important symbols of your faith on your private property because the rest of us don’t like it. We’re just saying that it’s no longer ok to force your beliefs on the rest of us – that is all.

And now, my favorite part. I read an article about Muslim woman saying that the niqab isn’t a part of Islam, and this is where it hits close to home for me. I was raised in an extremist Christian cult called the Church of God Restoration, which for this purpose I’m going to compare to the ISIS branch of Islam. (Not saying that we went about killing people with guns, although if we could have gotten away with it, we probably would have…) So. This article is comparable to a mainstream Mennonite woman writing something similar about her religion. No, the head covering isn’t a part of her mainstream Mennonite religion, and she doesn’t think that the Bible says she needs to wear it. For Hutterite, Holdeman, Conservative Mennonite, etc. etc. etc. women, however, the head covering absolutely IS a part of their religion. They have rock solid backing in their interpretation of the Bible for wearing it, and to force them to take it off would be humiliating and violating beyond belief. Yes, the rest of us may look at those women with pity, thinking that they’re oppressed by men, and we would be partly right. That form of religion is absolutely subjugating the women, and awarding them less status than men.

But, having been inside a similar circle, I sympathize. Yes, I may have been oppressed and in bondage – no arguments there. HOWEVER, the clothes that I wore were my safety, my way of obeying God, and my way of fitting in in my culture. It was MY CHOICE to wear those clothes, and if someone had told me that I had to put on a pair of jeans and a tank top… gosh, I’m hyperventilating just thinking about it. I don’t think I can even start to describe the panic and violation I would have felt at that. Some strange person, from outside my group (so I already would have had no trust, because I didn’t trust anyone on the outside) was telling me that what I was wearing was wrong, that the men in my group were forcing me to wear it, and now they (the men outside of my group) are telling me that I CANNOT legally wear it? That would have traumatized me beyond belief, and I would never, ever have trusted an “outsider” again. It was MY CHOICE to wear those clothes, and it had to be MY CHOICE to take them off. Even that was brutal; even though I reasoned my way through it, and had good reasons for putting on 3/4 length sleeves or pants, I still felt naked and evil. It’s a part of who these women are- they have deeply held beliefs, which we may think are wrong, but it’s not for us to force them to change. We have to respect their choices, just as we would want ours to be respected. If a political party were to attack Christianity, telling Mennonite women that they had to take their head coverings off, I would have exactly the same reaction as I have to this. It’s a violation of personal beliefs and choice, and that is never OK. As individuals, we need to have the freedom to worship (or not) as we please, to dress as we feel as our religion dictates, etc. I believe in equality, but I fail to see how a white male telling a Muslim woman what she can’t wear is any better than a Muslim man telling her what she has to wear.

Of course, if a woman’s identity needs to be verified, we need mechanisms in place that allow that, absolutely, but we have to do so in a way that that is not humiliating her, and does not violate her personal security or beliefs. Back to the parallel of me in the Church of God Restoration. One of my greatest fears was that my bun (with the dozens of hairpins I used to keep it secure) would set off the machines at airport security, and I would be forced to take down my hair in front of a bunch of men. That was the height of immodesty, and would have reduced me to unbearable tears of shame. Nothing ever happened, but if it had, the compassionate thing would have been for a female security guard to take me into a secluded room for me to take my hair down, thus sparing me from the humiliation of having men see my hair. Whether we agree or not, the thought of exposing her face to strange men is incomprehensible to a Muslim woman who wears a niqab.

I may fiercely disagree with religion, but I will always fight for your right to believe and practice it. That is what makes us Canadians- we have the freedom to choose. The way to go about this is to educate and empower women to make choices for themselves. Period. If their choice right now includes wearing a niqab, then that is their right. In time, as they’re exposed to different schools of thought and education, they may or may not decide to ditch it. Again, that needs to be THEIR CHOICE. Nobody can make it for them. Period.

– Gloria Froese

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