Debate on niqab a distraction from real issues, Muslim women say

Three Winnipeg Muslim women are speaking out against efforts to politicize the niqab in this federal election.

Three Winnipeg Muslim women say they want to see issues affecting all Canadians this election

Debate on niqab a distraction from real issues, Muslim women say

8 years ago
Duration 2:21
Three Winnipeg Muslim women are speaking out against efforts to politicize the niqab in this federal election.

Three Winnipeg Muslim women are speaking out against efforts to politicize the niqab in this federal election.

The niqab, or veil, that partially covers a woman's face has been front and centre on the campaign trail in recent weeks.

Tasneem Vali said the attention being paid to a piece of clothing that is worn by a small number of women in Canada has come as a shock. 

"This is not a fundamental issue that we must all agree on," said Vali. "It is what you consider to be your personal form of modesty. For me to tell you that you're wrong in thinking that way, that is not what Canada is about. That is not what Islam is about." 

The niqab gained prominence as an election issue after a court ruled in favour of Zunera Ishaq, who challenged a 2011 Conservative ban on wearing the niqab while taking the citizenship oath.

From left: Ellisha Remnant, Warda Ahmed and Tasneem Vali react to debate over the niqab this federal election. (CBC)

Last Friday Ishaq took the oath while wearing the niqab at a government building in Mississauga, Ont..

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper also drew attention to the niqab last week. Harper said his government would examine a wider ban on the niqab for federal public servants if he is re-elected. 

Vali believes the decision to wear a niqab is a personal choice that should be left to a woman to make on her own. 

The mother of three said at one point in her life, she wore the niqab for a period of about two months, before deciding it wasn't the right choice for her. Vali was working as a teacher in Pakistan at the time. 

"I thought that doing that was was that extra modesty that I was looking for that would bring me closer to God," said Vali. "It didn't add to my expressed spirituality per se that I was looking for, I think. And that does not mean that I don't respect and value somebody who does do the niqab."

Vali said instead of debating the niqab, this election should be about issues that affect the majority of Canadians. 

Warda Ahmed, a 26-year-old student at the University of Manitoba, agrees.

"Elections [are] supposed to be about making things better and bringing people together and making it a more inclusive and diverse society — not picking as to what a woman chooses to wear as part of her faith," Ahmed. 

Islamophobia and the importance of tolerance

Ahmed said she feels the Conservative government's attempt to ban the niqab in citizenship ceremonies is an example of Islamophobia. 

"I don't think that's a hidden agenda," said Ahmed. "I think it's a very clear agenda that it is Islamophobia and it just really makes us more divided instead of creating space and making elections a way for us to come together as Canadians."

RAW: Muslim women share thoughts on what's important to them this election

8 years ago
Duration 1:11
Hear what key issues Warda Ahmed, Tasneem Vali and Ellisha Remnant think should be front and centre this election.

Ahmed said this controversy has demonstrated the need to talk about the importance of tolerance. 

"Once we take care of someone else's right who is a minority, our rights also will be taken care of," said Ahmed. "We can't only just take care of ... the way we look, or what we believe in. But, also what someone else believes in and how they look, for us to be able to come together as an inclusive canada." 

'Don't distract us'

Ellisha Remnant said she thinks discussion and debate on the niqab has turned into a distraction from real issues like the economy. 

"Don't distract us with the niqab when a very small percentage of the Muslims wear the niqab," said Remnant. "So, please let's focus on what's important to make our community a better community, a more harmonious community and let us all participate on the positivity of our community." 

Remnant is happy Ishaq took her citizenship oath while wearing the niqab.

"This is what democracy is all about," said Remnant. "That's why a lot of people have come to Canada. For this. To be able to be part of a community, to dress however they feel fit."