Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Jason Kenney: New Grand Mufti of Canada

Dear Mr. Jason Kenney,

Thank you for informing the entire nation that you have nominated yourself Grand Mufti (Islamic scholar) of Canada, and have already dispensed your first fatwah (religious ruling)!

Your arrogance and your ignorance in assuming that you know Islamic law well enough to state that "Muslim women don't wear veils during Hajj" and therefore are allowed to remove them for the citizenship ceremony (without realizing that Islamic law states that there is a very special exception for removing the veils during the pilgrimage), is both laughable and insulting beyond belief.
Oh, and let's not forget that you also feel that you have the right to publicly call my belief and practice of wearing the veil as "bizarre." Can I expect you to say the same about the kirpan, turban, and Jewish skull cap next?

Similarly, the attitudes assumed by many journalists - ranging from "we are liberating Muslim women from their own oppressive beliefs!" to "how dare Muslim women have beliefs different from ours! We must stop this outrage immediately!" (accompanied by broadly generalizing statements such as "Muslim women who wear the veil keep themselves aloof and don't believe in gender equality) - are patronizing, offensive, and display a deliberate lack of knowledge regarding why some Muslim women wear the veil.

I wonder what Mr. Kenney's real reasons are for banning the veil - is it really about gender equality, fundamental Canadian principles, and "an open society"? Or is it just a public expression of our government's increasing xenophobia against all that is not white and Judeo-Christian?

Many years ago, my mother took the oath of citizenship while wearing her veil. So did my mother-in-law. It's a good thing that I was born a Canadian citizen, because otherwise I suppose that Mr. Kenney would like to stop me from being an equal member of Canadian society as well (no matter that I have lived in Canada all my life and consider it my true home). Then again, who knows - with the freedom-loving Mr. Kenney at the helm, he may one day decide that I am too much of a threat to Canada's "open society" and that I should be stripped of my citizenship due to my outrageous decision to wear the veil.

Thankfully, there remain some conscientious, courageous journalists who have rightly criticized Mr. Kenney's creation of and solution for a nonexistent problem. If Mr. Kenney is so concerned about actually hearing veiled Muslim women reciting the oath of citizenship, why not simply have them speak into a microphone? Ah, but that's too simple, and gosh darn it, we have to get those veils OFF somehow!

Reading the comments on the veil-related news articles online breaks my heart. Canadians, my fellow citizens, the people I grew up with, live next to, and smile at everyday (yes, you can tell I'm smiling even though I'm wearing a veil), are vilifying me and telling me in no uncertain terms (and with quite a few racist Islamophobic epithets thrown in) that they do not care about who I really am, how I contribute to society, or how much I love Canada. Instead, they have turned me into a stereotype - a threat, a victim, to be obliterated or liberated depending on how they view me. They are also telling me that I am not welcome, not unless I sacrifice my spiritual beliefs and conform to what THEY believe is "right." So much for welcoming diversity, for celebrating multiculturalism, for freedom of religion.

No, this is the new Canada. This new Canada tells us that any expression of "difference" is bad; that if you publicly display your faith, you are a threat; that there is only one way to be Canadian, and that is to behave exactly as the government demands.

This new Canada scares me.


A letter I sent to reporter Dan Gardner of the Ottawa Citizen, reproduced here on his website:

Full text below:

Hi Dan,

While reading your column "The Canvas of Emotion," I felt the annoyance that usually comes over me whenever people start talking about how the niqab (veil) is this, that, or the other.

That annoyance has not faded. Though I appreciate your honesty about how you really feel about the veil, and what you think it really is, I remain frustrated that you have not taken the time to research more deeply why some Muslim women wear the veil, and the reasons given for its practice within Islamic Law. At the very least, could you not have contacted a Muslim woman who wears the veil? After all, you do live in Ottawa, where the veil isn't entirely uncommon.

In any case, since you didn't take the time to learn more about the veil from someone who wears one, I have taken the time to come to you.

First of all, let me tell you a little about myself. My name is Zainab. I'm 21 years old, and although I currently live overseas, I was born a Canadian citizen and spent every year of my life there (except for the last two). I am a passionate believer in social justice and a fierce feminist. I've been writing since I was 14 - fiction, poetry, and articles for newspapers, blogs, and magazines. I am both independent and outspoken.

I am a Muslim woman, and I started wearing the veil when I turned 17, after years of begging my mom (who also wears it) to let me (shocking, huh? A teenage girl being forbidden from wearing the veil, not being forced into it!).

I do not wear the veil to segregate myself from society; I do not wear it to "smother my identity"; I do not wear it to remain aloof from others or assume that I'm better than them, or any of the other theories that so many journalists have been sharing within the last two days.

No. I wear it because first of all, I believe that God commanded it. In the Qur'an, the veil has three purposes: to test just how far you'll go to obey God; to identify yourself as a Muslim woman; and for the sake of modesty. (Specific Qur'anic verse:

To expand a little upon the last point, it has nothing to do with Islam considering all women to be wicked seductresses bent on luring innocent men into frenzies of lust. Instead, it has to do with Islam's concern for societal welfare.
Men and women are allowed to interact in any number of settings, whether it be for business, education, or otherwise, but there are certain limits placed on those interactions.
By restricting men's ability to physically assess a woman's face or body and treat her according to how attractive he considers her (a human-nature practice studied and proven extensively in psychology), they are forced to deal with the woman on purely intellectual terms: her ideas and her actions.

In this kind of setting, no man can ever make judgments about a woman based on her physical features (like, oh, I don't know... how about promoting a woman just because she's got bigger boobs than the competition? Don't tell me this doesn't happen in the corporate world.)

Now, with regards to the claims you make about the veil - that it cuts off one's identity; that communication is hindered and restricted; that the ability to emotionally connect disappears - I can say with full confidence that while it might make sense theoretically, in reality none of those things take place.

I went to school, to the mall, to the park, to every place imaginable while wearing the veil. I hiked, I debated, I studied, I smiled and said "good morning" to passers-by... and they were all able to recognize that I was interacting with them and reaching out emotionally. My teachers, classmates, and neighbours never saw my face, but that didn't mean that they didn't trust me less; that they felt cut off from me or separated from me.

I built both short-term and long-term relationships - whether with the librarian or the grocery store clerk; my favourite teacher or the mailman.

Identity, emotions, and expressions of the two are not limited to facial features. In a society which is no longer tribal but cyber-connected, this is evidenced in the popularity of web forums, text messaging and more, we have effectively proven that there are practically no more barriers that hinder communication. When walking around veiled, people could easily tell if I was happy or sad, smiling or frowning. That's because body language involves more than just facial expressions (which, by the way, you can detect on a veiled woman because you can still see her eyes).

Muslim women may cover their faces; but that doesn't stop us from talking or taking action. And as I was taught in kindergarten, we deal with people based on how they act, not how they look.

You may be interested in taking a look at thiese webpage (video, article, and comments) to get a better idea of the issue of veiling amongst Muslims (and especially how it does not stop us from being normal, functional, friendly human beings!):

(Yes, I wrote this one.)
I sincerely hope that you are able to consider the reality of veiled Muslim women over psychological hypotheses (which might sound fancy and all, but don't actually translate into real life), and realize that there's more going on behind the veil (as though this pun isn't overused already... *sigh*) than what you think.
-Zainab bint Younus (aka AnonyMouse)