This National Post column features an interview with author, activist and columnist Sheema Khan. Khan describes her family’s immigration history from India to Montreal, and how, as a graduate student in chemical physics at Harvard University, she decided to become more religiously observant and chose to wear a hijab. Khan’s collection of personal essays, Of Hockey and Hijab: Reflections of a Canadian Muslim Woman (Tsar, 2010), is now available.
Following last month’s call by the Muslim Canadian Congress to ban the face-covering niqab, or buraa, about 30 Muslim groups across Canada denounced the proposal. Their basis: The state has no business dictating what a woman should wear, nor infringing on individual freedoms. Sheema Khan acknowledges, however, how legalities aside, many Canadians feel uncomfortable seeing the face-veil here. It represents a physical barrier, which has no precedent in our culture. It has also become a misogynous icon, due to the Taliban, and Saudi “religious” police. Security is an added concern. Finally, many assume veiled women are coerced into wearing “that thing.”
Yet, Khan highlights that the intentions of these women are diverse. For some, it is an act of faith to get closer to God. Some incur the disapproval of family, friends and community for taking this step; others are forced to do so by family members. Youthful defiance may play a role. As for security, veiled women readily comply with identification protocols when required.