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.
In this opinion piece in the Globe and Mail daily newspaper, Canadian Muslim Sheema Khan calls on Canadian Muslims to take the threat of “home grown” terrorism seriously and warns the faithful of its danger. The Qur’an and the example of the Prophet Mohammed, she adds, are unequivocal in condemning harm to non-combatants and property. Khan concludes that Canadian Muslims can no longer sit on the sidelines on this issue and must get involved politically.
Sheema Khan suggests in this opinion piece that there is a growing separation between leadership and those who attend mosques in the West. She claims that this disconnect is being played out in Ottawa, Ontario where the city’s largest mosque has been embroiled in controversy as it searches for a permanent imam. The mosque’s directors initially sought an imam familiar with Western culture. Instead, they chose one from Cairo’s al-Azhar University, paid for by the Egyptian government. As a result, many mosque members revolted. Khan praises the community members who want their voices heard and more accountability from directors as a healthy development.