Montreal

The weight of the veil: One Muslim Montrealer's perspective

I never decided to stop wearing the veil, I just didn't have the energy to continue wearing it at the time. I myself wanted a bit of my anonymity and didn't feel like being the object of media debates all the time.

Dania Suleman on the 'heavy burden' borne by Canadian Muslim women who choose the hijab

As part of our series Real Talk on Race, CBC Montre​al asked 10 people to share their personal stories about race. These stories are in their own words. Share yours with us on Facebook, Twitter or email webquebec@cbc.ca.


I believe the hardest thing about being a Muslim in Québec or Canada nowadays is always being rejected in another space of citizenship.

We often hear things like: "This isn't a Muslim country. If you don't like it here, move back to your countries."

Dania Suleman at a protest against the Quebec Charter of Values in October 2013. (Nafeesa Salar)

We're being told we're not really Canadians.

Hijab-wearing Muslim women are especially prone to this verbal and psychological violence, whether on TV, on the streets or while debating potential bill of law.

Every time a Muslim woman tries to communicate that the hijab is her choice and Islam is her faith, her words are shut down and she is being patronized and told she's being conditioned by some Islamic patriarchal system to think she chose to wear the veil, but really she didn't.

Our religious practices and communities are always being dissected and analysed in the media.

One day it's our food diet (how we eat halal), another it's the piece of cloth we wear on our heads, then it's our integration, or lack thereof.

Other times, it'll be how our youth is problematic and engulfed in a culture of war and jihad and that we ought to be surveilled.

'I felt suffocated'

I myself used to wear the hijab and I did so for several years. I had a very positive and affectionate relationship with the hijab.

But I grew very tired of having to justify and explain myself to either strangers, friends or family about the reasons why I chose to wear the veil.

You feel a heavy burden — that somehow, since you wear the veil, you are an ambassador for this vast religion called Islam.

You feel an intense gaze. 

I remember literally choosing veil colours that were never too sombre or dark, because the last image I wanted to give out was that of a poor young Muslim girl that was forced to wear the veil.

What was initially a spiritual decision slowly became a political endeavour to prove Muslim women were as autonomous as our peers.

In the end, I felt suffocated.

I never decided to stop wearing the veil, I just didn't have the energy to continue wearing it at the time. I myself wanted a bit of my anonymity and didn't feel like being the object of media debates all the time.

Ironically, when you do stop wearing the veil, you receive these condescending comments about how you finally understood, that somehow you're now liberated.

People become curious to see the before and after as if it's some sort of makeover.

There is a burden and gaze placed upon Muslim women that somehow they are accountable towards everyone, especially if they wear the hijab.

The least we could do is to give them the space to talk, find ground of commonalities and to legitimise their narrative when they say they chose their veil — that Islam is their faith and being Canadian is part of their identity.


A practising lawyer since 2013, Dania is currently completing a master of laws on the possible reconciliation between religious freedom and gender equality.