Banning of Niqab in the West: two sides of a broken coin.

I have been approached by many people now, who asked me about my opinion on the banning of niqab that is going on in many Western countries and has touched Quebec while slowly approaching Western Canada. I must say that yes, I do have an opinion, and that is that the issue is way more complex of what Western politicians think and what Muslims believe. The issue of niqab is an issue of difference and fear. Although many Muslims say that it is also an issue of ignorance, I will challenge that through their own ignorance on the issue.

First of all, my main problem with the banning in the West is not the fact that they have to accept everything other cultures bring. The truth is that only immigrants and foreigners think that they have all the right to bring their own practices, while local people believe that immigration is a privilege that should be conditioned to assimilation. And if anyone has doubts on Canada’s policies of assimilation, just do a bit of research on the Residential School system and aboriginal policies. Nonetheless, my main problem is that the West portraits itself as a liberal region. What does it mean to be liberal? For those who do not know, I will just say that it refers to the principles of free choice, freedom of religion, opinion, etc. It means that the state cannot restrict the individual unless the individual hurts society. Now, the question with niqab, and for that matter hijab as a whole, is: are we harming society? Of course, as Muslims we say NO! Nonetheless, that’s what we think as people that see hijab as a religious symbol and Allah’s order for us. However, why would we think that everybody has that idea of head and face coverings? The West tends to say that hijab and niqab are symbols of oppression. We as Muslims believe that mini-skirts are a symbol of the oppression of Western women. Many Westerners have the courage to come up to us, Muslim women, and ask us if our parents or husbands force us to wear hijab and niqab. That’s because the historical and social context of the West cannot conceive the idea of women making their own choices. But to be fair, Islamic societies do not accept women’s personal choices either. Just one example… what do we say of women who do not wear hijab, I wonder? The banning of niqab is a banning on the willingness of women to fight for a principle that opposes Western traditions. And I must admit that niqab is very problematic in the West. Wearing niqab in Saudi Arabia where most women wear it is not a problem, and it is actually encouraged. Nevertheless, niqab in North America, Asia, Europe and Latin America may be out of context. Try wearing niqab in Latin America and chances are you life will be miserable and the police will get you. However, the West keeps saying: ‘We are the place of choices and opportunities.’ How can the West be the place of choices when in France women are denied medical treatment, legal assistance and education for wearing niqab and hijab! Well, their argument is ‘you are dangerous for society.’ Why are we dangerous? Well, unfortunately, Muslim women have become the symbol of fundamentalist Islam, terrorism and oppression. And even worse, most converts to Islam are Western women! That is the danger. In a world where the values and morals of the West are falling to pieces and the rest of us are hanging around, Westerners feel threatened.

However, the other side of this twisted coin are Muslims. We live in the West and we complain so much about the fact that we cannot wear niqab and that soon we won’t be able to wear hijab. However, I wonder, is this a reaction to the own rules of the so-called Islamic countries? We complain when we don’t get a job for wearing hijab or niqab; however, would I be able to get a decent job in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Libya, etc., if I go to my interview with a mini-skirt? We complain about the fact that we cannot go into government’s institutions wearing niqab, but would I be able to get help in Oman, Yemen, etc., if I do not respect the dressing codes? Isn’t abaaya and hijab mandatory in some countries regardless of your nationality or religion? Why don’t we complain about that? All this seems scandalous for us as Muslims, but don’t we send people to jail for kissing in public in Islamic countries, or for wearing swimming suits in beaches? We say, ‘they come to us so they must respect our rules.’ Well, why don’t we respect their rules too? We don’t because we believe that our belief in Allah transcends any law and culture. However, that is not true, niqab has not been commanded and proof exists that niqab is a cultural thing that wealthy women used to wear in pre-Islamic Arabia and was adopted by many other women. Later on, some people argue, the wives of the prophet were commanded to cover themselves and discussion exists on the nature of the coverage, was it niqab? Or just hijab? Either way, believing women were just ordered to wear hijab. Besides, why do we assume that we are always right and everybody else is always wrong? Unfortunately, my belief in Allah does not justify niqab in the West and does not transcend this world’s laws. Besides, the Qur’an encourages us to follow the rules of those places where we live, and if we feel that our religion is threatened, we should look for a new place to live.

Although I do not support or justify in any way the decision of the West to attack hijab, niqab or any other religious garment, I think that Muslims should stop seeing things just from their side and try to understand. We must understand that wearing niqab in countries where women do not conceal their beauty seems odd, and for many people it imposes a communication barrier. Many people do not want to talk to someone that they cannot see. Especially in societies like North American countries, where eye contact and facial expressions are so basic for communication. In addition, we should also understand that many fundamentalists have abused niqab and have used it to hide men holding bombs! How can we make people feel comfortable if our own community acts with such violence?

On the other hand, I do think that the West should stop preaching freedom and liberalism. It seems, nowadays, that those days are over. Freedom has been subject to security and fear. Fear leads to conservativism, and this leads to the banning of things like niqab, hijab, and soon enough we won’t be allowed to wear clothes that conceal the body. We are already facing a bigger threat in airports with machines that will be able to see our clothes and everything beyond! It does not worth the joke! The West does not advocate anymore for freedom of religion and individual freedom. Now, we are just told to practice in private! What does practicing in private mean when I see Churches every block and I listen ‘oh my God’ everywhere. I live under the principles of morality that were set up by the first Christian governments of this country and many of the laws reflect Christian values, so what does it mean to take religion home? Maybe what they are trying to say is to be Secular-Christians (but just of the dominant kinds because they don’t like minorities either) outside and whatever else we want at home… that’s how assimilation works in the West, but they won’t tell that to you openly! It might be against the Constitution or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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