December 2011



Updated piece, original post at  MuslimMatters

Well, they’ve done it once more. Niqab (face veil) wearing women have created national frenzy yet again. This time it was Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenny, who sparked the controversy.

Effective immediately, he announced in early December, all niqabs are banned from the oath taking citizenship ceremony. Any niqab wearing Muslim woman wishing to become a Canadian citizen must remove the veil during the ceremony he stated. Kenny said that the niqab ‘reflects a certain view about women that we don’t accept inCanada’.

Minister Kenny also clarified that this isn’t just about the judge being able to see and validate the recital of the oath, “This is not simply a practical measure. It is a matter of deep principle that goes to the heart of our identity and our values of openness and equality”. The niqab obviously violates all that we hold sacred inCanadaaccording to Kenny.

So, what was the last time you heard of a woman refusing to take off the niqab before swearing the citizenship oath? Never. How many women even take the oath wearing a niqab? Probably an insignificant number. Neither Mr. Kenny nor his office could provide any statistics to back up the ban they so forcefully implemented. No one knew about this complaint up till the announcement of the ban. Clearly, this wasn’t a problem to begin with.

It is obvious that this ban is yet another sleazy bigoted move by the Conservatives to score political points and gain some short term popularity. By making inflammatory remarks about a minority group, they are appealing to our irrational fears and dividing us along the lines of race and religion. At a time when their government is under heavy criticism due to the withdrawal from Kyoto and the mess they created in Attawapiskat, playing the Muslim card is the best way out. Prime Minister Stephen Harper used similar tactics in September when he warned us all that the greatest threat to Canada was ‘Islamicism’ – whatever that is.

Regardless of the motivations behind it, the ban carries many implications. Firstly, it violates the democratic right to citizenship which is entitled to all that satisfy its prerequisites. Changing your dress code, which you adhere to religiously, is not a reasonable requirement in the least; even if it is just for the oath taking ceremony. No one should be barred from citizenship simply because of the way they dress up.

Disallowing the veil at a symbolic event like the citizenship ceremony sends a strong message that niqab wearing women are not welcome in Canada. For a country which fought hard to ensure that women have the freedom to dress as they please, this is a step backwards.

The ban further marginalizes a small minority of Muslim women and creates an ‘us verses them’ dichotomy. You can either be Canadian or a Niqabee – this is what the ban represents. It certainly flies flat in the face of the tolerant and welcoming society we aim to foster. As the Toronto Star aptly put it, the ban coerces Muslim women to fit into the mainstream – ‘behave and look just like us, or pay the price’. So much for the individualism we value.

This legislation is also extremely hypocritical for a country like Canada, which invadedAfghanistanwith the aim of liberating their women from the Taliban. The face veil is commonly worn amongst Afghan women, so one has to question why Canada feels the need to liberate these women inAfghanistanbut can’t accept them here at home. We can set up hospitals, schools, courts and voting booths for veiled women abroad and pat ourselves on the back; but at home can’t bear the sight of them?

Jason Kenny, like most, believes that he is liberating the niqabee’s from the oppression imposed on them by their husbands and fathers. Not only is this entirely false, the reality is that he is restricting their freedom and engagement with society by disallowing them to become citizens. Perhaps – this is just a wild idea – by allowing them to become citizens, we might have a greater chance of integrating these new comers into our social fabric?

Yes, the niqab makes many of us uncomfortable as we are not accustomed to it. It means different things to different people; oppression to some and devotion to others. But banning things because we don’t like them is completely antithetical to what democracy stands for. Kenney said the ban was a matter of “deep principle.” What Canadian principle was sacrificed if someone did choose to wear a veil to the ceremony? Individualism, freedom of expression, religious accommodation? Visit a ski resort in the winter and you’ll see veiled people all around.

This unnecessary ban impacts a few and is largely political and symbolic. What is disturbing is the justification behind it. Jason Kenny banned the veil because it represented to him something that was against Canadian values. Using the same arguments, he could ban a number of other things. Would he ban the Muslim headscarf, the hijab, next because it’s not inline with his myopic view of what makes Canada? Perhaps he will then follow it by a ban on Mennonite bonnets and Sikh turbans. These measures immunize the public to the marginalization of a minority group and create precedent for further bans and cuts in religious freedoms.

Veiled women frequently reveal their faces for identification and other pragmatic purposes. If verifying the oath recital was so important, a polite request by the judge to those concerned would have done the job quite well. This however, would not have gotten Jason Kenny the popularity and political support he wanted. Implementing unilateral immediate bans doest not represent a democracy, rather, it is a shade of fascism.

See my letter the Toronto Star and  Hamilton Spectator 


First published in The Silhouette on December 1st, 2011

My soul cringes with disgust every time details of the Shafia murders are revealed. So much so that I have difficulty finishing the articles detailing accounts of what the Shafia sisters were going through. But unlike most people following the trial, my disgust and anger is twice that of anyone else – partly as a human, and partly as a Muslim.

Every now and then we hear of people committing unspeakable crimes. Here in Canada, the most recent one was that of Russell Williams. While public outrage and anger was directed at Williams alone during his trial, this certainly is not the case for the Shafia trial. Afghan Muslim immigrants have allegedly committed the Shafia murders. The blame in this case has been relegated to everything but the accused, it seems. Different groups are now using this unfortunate tragedy as an opportunity to advance their respective agendas.

Right-wing media outlets have already started using the incident to attack multiculturalism and its failure in Canada. They argue that it is political correctness and accommodation of immigrants that doomed the four women. Being overly sensitive towards Muslims is what caused the authorities to overlook the ‘honour killing’ that was about to take place. How these people mix-up religious accommodation with abuse towards women is beyond me. Even the most extreme interpretations of multiculturalism don’t call for accommodation of moral vices.

The Islamophobes are using it to warn us of the impinging threat that Muslims pose to this nation. The Shafia sisters, along with Aqsa Pervez, will now become the poster children of their movement. They will use this incident to further their case that Islam is, in fact, what inspired this crime. Statements from Quran establishing the sanctity of human life, the prohibition of such despicable acts and the commandment for the good treatment of women by the Prophet Muhammad are meaningless for this group.

The secularists are using it to prove the evils associated with religion, and the misogyny that they claim to be inherent in it. Their belief that Muslim women are forced to wear headscarves is further strengthened and their mission to liberate the ‘poor Muslim woman’ has gained more momentum. Their inability to differentiate patriarchal tribal customs from the normative practices of Islam is unfortunate, to say the least. These uninformed superficial attempts only end up inflicting more harm upon Muslim women, who, for the record, are quite capable of speaking for themselves.

Since the label of an ‘honour killing’ has sensationalized the murder and has sparked a series of unnecessary debates, I for one will attempt to set the record straight. Mohammed Shafia, if you are in fact guilty, then you are a sick man. Killing your own kin is one of the most despicable acts humanly possible; doing so in the name of preserving honour is even more perverted. The dysfunctional family you fostered was your own doing. Now you’ve punished your daughters for your poor parenting.

You’ve dishonoured not only yourself but your co-religionists too. Average Canadian Muslims like me will bear the brunt of your misdeeds. We will spend the coming ages explaining to people that our faith condemns, in the strongest terms, the heinous act you committed. We will have to go the extra mile to convince people that Muslim women observe their faith out of their own free will, and not under the Nazi-style hegemony you had imposed on your family. Freedom was all your family yearned for, but you deprived them of it. I hope you too are treated in a similar fashion, with your freedom restricted behind bars for good.


Originally written for MuslimMatters

It was supposed to be just another shopping trip when Inas Kadri ventured out to the mall with her two little children last August. As she was browsing through the shops and checking out the sales, a woman approached her and started cursing and yelling at her. This woman swore at Kadri, who wears a niqab, about her religion and told her to “Leave our country. Go back to your country”. In her anger and rage, this woman took her hate to the next level and pulled off Kadri’s niqab. All this was caught in the mall’s security camera.

Last week, Kadri’s attacker, 66- year old Rosemarie Creswell, was given a one-year suspended sentence for assault. The judge also ruled she must serve 100 hours of community service, and suggested she educate herself about Muslims by attending a mosque. Creswell wrote a letter of apology to Kadri and said that, ‘Since that day, I have researched Muslim customs. I now have a much greater appreciation for what I did to you’.

This level of hate is generally unheard of here in Canada. What shocks me even more is that the act was committed in my own city of Mississauga; one of the most densely populated Muslim cities in the nation. Sheridan Center is an area surrounded by a large immigrant population and women wearing hijab is a common sight.

While the niqab is certainly not popular in Canada, as is evident in Quebec’s Bill 94, assaults on women wearing it is a first. It’s hard to gauge at this point if this is a fringe incident or a part of broader rise in anti-Muslim bigotry. This past summer’s movement to ban Friday prayers from Toronto schools and the apathy shown after PM’s remarks on ‘Islamicism’ are certainly indicators of growing uneasiness many Canadians have towards Muslims.

Inas Kadri’s intelligent and brave handling of this assault is a testament to her courage and confidence. Reporting such crimes is extremely important and many victims unfortunately are unable to do that. Doing so not only meant the attacker was brought to justice but it also allowed the average person to see the type of racism many Muslims experience. It also helps humanize niqab wearing women who often times are looked upon as the epitome of backwardness and subjugation.

As an outspoken woman with a degree in computer engineering, Kadri certainly helps bust many myths people have about niqabis. When asked about her decision to wear the veil, during an interview on national television, she made it clear; “Not my father, not my husband, not no one at all” she said, “it’s me, and it’s my choice.”


First published in the National Post

Re: Islamism’s War On Women, editorial, Sept. 21.

I was disappointed to read this editorial regarding “Islamism’s war on women.” The National Post once again is propagating views of the secular Muslim Canadian Congress and demonizing the views of mainstream Muslims. Raheel Raza’s statement that the “legal code known as sharia has no basis in [Islam]” is a testament to her ignorance, and represents complacency on your part.

The National Post might not like how Muslims practise their faith. You might not like that men and women are required to pray separately or that women have to wear a headscarf. However, labelling these practices as radical and demonizing those who adhere to them is not something I’d expect from your editorial board.

Waleed Ahmed, McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice, Hamilton, Ont.