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Canadian Muslim group calls for burqa ban

Dawn- Friday, 09 Oct, 2009

We want to recognize gender equality as an absolute. The burqa marginalizes women’: Muslim Canadian Congress.

Photo by Awaam

Photo by Awaam

OTTAWA: A Muslim group on Thursday called for a ban on the wearing of burqas in public in Canada, saying it ‘marginalizes women.’

‘The burqa has absolutely no place in Canada,’ said Farzana Hassan of the Muslim Canadian Congress.

‘In Canada we recognize the equality of men and women. We want to recognize gender equality as an absolute. The burqa marginalizes women.’

Many Muslim women in this country are being forced to wear the loose robe and veil by their husbands and family, setting them apart from other Canadian women who are living freely, she claimed.

Hassan acknowledged the Quran preaches modesty, but ‘it doesn’t have to be that you have to cover your face or you have to wear a virtual tent wherever you go. This is not a requirement of Islam or the Quran.’

Hassan blamed extremist Muslims for its rising popularity in Canada. ‘To counter this trend, we are asking for a ban on the burqa,’ she said.

The call follows an edict by a top Muslim authority in Egypt calling for a ban on the burqa.

Several European countries, including France, Italy and Denmark, have also called for burqa bans in recent years.

Last year, an Ontario judge ruled that a woman testifying against her alleged rapist does not have the right based on religious beliefs to wear a veil in court. The decision is being appealed.

In 2007, a controversy also erupted over a Quebec election official’s decree to Muslim women to remove their veil at the ballot box so that their identity could be verified.

Hassan was not able to say exactly how many women in Canada wear the burqa, but said ‘it is on the rise’ in Toronto and Montreal.

According to a 2006 census, there are some 800,000 Muslims living in Canada.

The Muslim Canadian Congress, which has some 300 members, describes itself as ‘providing a voice to Muslims who are not represented by existing organizations … that are either sectarian or ethnocentric, largely authoritarian, and influenced by a fear of modernity and an aversion to joy.’ — AFP

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  1. yes, i think it should also be banned in Pakistan as naqab trend is fast growing in our young girls, in colleges and universities who use it as a protection for doing illegal activities, i call on government to ban naqab in Pakistan.

  2. Emilia Liz says

    Hi. I actually wrote an article about the issue. I’ll print it here.

    Should the burqa be banned?

    If the Taliban has accomplished anything, it has been to make “burqa” a household word. The burqa of course refers to the full-body covering donned by some Muslim women, which does not allow the woman to be viewed by others but includes a gauze net at the eye level to permit her to see outside. The burqa is similar to the niqab, which also covers the head and body but leaves the woman’s eyes exposed.

    Under the Taliban Afghan women were legally forced to wear the burqa if they ventured from their homes. Now a Muslim group in Canada is taking the opposite tactic. The Muslim Canadian Congress is urging the Canadian federal government to forbid the wearing of the burqa, and the niqab, in public.* According to the Congress, as an instrument of women’s oppression the burqa has no place in a country like Canada that prides itself on its gender equality. Furthermore, the burqa poses a security risk, as an individual – male or female – could put it on to rob a bank or other establishment without fear of being identified. Finally, the Muslim Canadian Congress says the burqa is not mandated by Islam or even mentioned in the Koran. It is instead a Middle Eastern cultural tradition that was co-opted by Muslims in the region.

    Not everyone concurs with the Muslim Canadian Congress’ demand. The Canadian Islamic Congress for instance believes that banning the burqa would violate the freedom of religion and conscience of Muslim women who chose to wear it. To that the Muslim Canadian Congress replies that for many, even most, women the burqa is not a choice but something imposed on them by their husbands and other family members. The group’s president Farzana Hassan stated as well in an interview on CBC Radio that religious freedom is not absolute.

    The question of whether or not to ban the burqa presents a dilemma for many Canadians regardless of their religion. In Canada, women’s rights and freedom of religion are two principles most of us take seriously. But what happens when they appear to collide?

    I believe the idea of the burqa as a security threat deserves to be discussed. The Muslim Canadian Congress’ Tarek Fatah described at least one incident in Canada in which an individual – a man, actually – robbed a bank while wearing a burqa. Is this a reason to prohibit the burqa in public? Perhaps – though one could argue that in that case ski masks, which have probably been used for more robberies than the burqa has, should be banned as well. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to require that women show their faces in situations where identification is advisable in order to prevent fraud, when voting or taking out money at a bank, for instance. But I suspect the burqa’s potential as a robbery facilitator may be a bit exaggerated by its opponents.

    I’m also somewhat wary of the notion that the burqa should be forbidden in order to prevent women from being forced to wear it. This is one of the Muslim Canadian Congress’ main arguments for banning the garment. However, over the years a plethora of restrictive legislation of dubious benefit has been passed for the purpose of “protecting” women. For instance, when Ireland was debating whether to permit divorce (which it ultimately did in 1995) some people claimed that doing so would hurt women by freeing up men to abandon their wives and children. One Irish politician, Alice Glenn, made the now-famous comparison of a woman voting to legalize divorce to a “turkey voting for Christmas.” (Of course we in North America might say a turkey voting for Thanksgiving.) Glenn never mentioned that over half of divorces today are filed by wives rather than husbands. While most of these women do so not because of abuse and/or alcoholism on their spouses’ part but because of dissatisfaction with the marriage in general, it’s not hard to imagine that forbidding divorce does make it more difficult for a woman to be free of a man like Carlo Rizzi in The Godfather. Thus here we have an example of a law (the ban on divorce) ostensibly aimed at helping women which ends up potentially hurting them.

    I don’t doubt the Muslim Canadian Congress’ call for a burqa ban stems from a genuine concern for women (though I suspect it’s also an attempt on the group’s part to spruce up Islam’s image in the eyes of non-Muslim Canadians, many of whom associate the religion with the subjugation of women). And the question of whether even in Canada women freely decide to wear the burqa deserves to be examined. Yet the idea of forbidding something that we personally might find oppressive strikes me as paternalistic at best and authoritarian at worst. An analogy might lie in the case of Michelle Duggar, the Arkansas woman with at last count eighteen children and one more on the way. (See my earlier essay about her in Cynics Unlimited at http://www.google.ca/search?hl=en&source=hp&q=%22emilia+Liz%22+duggar+cynics&meta=&aq=f&oq=.) I’ve embarked on a completely different course in my reproductive life: I’ve chosen to give birth to only one child. Just as the Muslim Canadian Congress says the burqa is not part of the Islamic religion, my interpretation of Psalm 127:3-5, “happy is he who has his quiver full of (children),” does not tell me that I should necessarily have as many kids as my body can pump out. One commentator on my quiverfull essay claimed that the Duggars were “brainwashed.” Which may be true, but who am I or anyone else to tell Ms. Duggar that she should not have as many children as she can produce because it’s not something that I would ever do myself or that I consider a religious obligation?

    Which brings up the role of religion in society. I agree with Farzana Hassan that freedom of religion is not absolute. For example, courts have – rightly – ordered medical treatment for the children of Christian Scientists. On the other hand, in the same way that political leaders shouldn’t be allowed to impose their religious beliefs about abortion, homosexuality, etcetera, on people who do not share them, perhaps other than in extreme situations it is not the government’s job to decide how citizens should practise their religion. Rather than resort to the law, the Muslim Canadian Congress might consider trying to educate the Muslim community on why the burqa and niqab are not religious requirements.

    Though in the end I don’t have any definite answer on whether or not the burqa should be legally forbidden in Canada, I tend to lean against a ban. The occasional conflict between women’s rights and religious freedom isn’t always easily resolved. In attempting to do so, we should be careful to strike a balance between the needs of individuals and the needs of the greater society.

    * The Muslim Canadian Congress is not on the other hand calling for a ban on the hijab, or headscarf, which covers only the woman’s hair.

  3. Adnan Shoeb says

    How can the Islamic dress that guards the modesty and respect of the woman be accused of enslaving her, while the enslavement of women is legal under the law within secular societies – where brothels, pornography, and lap-dancing clubs are easily accessible under the premise of liberty

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