In Iran, women are forced to wear the hijab to cover their hair. In Quebec, public servants who are Muslim are prevented from wearing the head covering.
Meantime, many Canadians are confused by it.
Is it a form of oppression against women or a sign of faith and devotion to God many Muslim women freely choose to wear? Why all the focus on what they wear — or don’t — on their heads, anyway?
Answering those questions is the goal of “Right to Choose: the Hijab and Human Rights,” a presentation (issacanada.com) Friday at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
The free event, which starts at 7 p.m., is sponsored by the Islamic Social Services Association, Canadian Council of Muslim Women and the Winnipeg-based museum. It is part of Islamic History Month.
Presenters are Shahina Siddiqui of ISSA, Nuzhat Jafri, executive director of CCMW, and Zoulaykah Al Lilo, a newcomer to Winnipeg from Syria who co-ordinates the Canadian Muslim Leadership Institute.
“It is very troubling the ways in which policies and laws are used to exploit women’s rights,” said Al Lilo, adding Muslim women should have the right to choose whether or not to wear the hijab.
Al Lilo, who wears a hijab as a way “to express my faith,” is particularly disturbed by how Muslim women are being denied freedom of choice in countries like Iran or a province like Quebec.
“It shows me that, regardless of political agendas or views on governance, Muslim women continue to be the target of serious and harmful acts of misogyny,” she said.
Siddiqui feels the same way. They are “extremely painful and horrible abuses of power, a violation of Islamic principles and human rights,” she said.
In Iran, wearing the hijab has been portrayed as a sign of faithfulness, while in Quebec it is contextualized as secularism and gender equality, she said.
In both places, Siddiqui said, it is “actually veiled misogyny, abuse of power and control of those who are perceived to be weak.”
While there is a lot of support for women in Iran protesting the forced wearing of the hijab, Siddiqui is “disillusioned” by the lack of push-back on what is happening in Quebec from politicians, women’s organizations and religious leaders.
For her, Muslim women — no matter where they live — should have the right to choose.
“(The hijab) is a woman’s personal choice, and one else’s business,” Siddiqui said, noting she wears one as a sign of “submission to Allah.”
As for other Canadians who don’t know what to make of the hijab, Al Lilo recommends learning more about it and why some women choose to wear it.
“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” added Siddiqui. “For those who dislike Islam, it is seen as a sign of oppression. But those who know why we wear it see it as an expression of our human rights.”
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg’s faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
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