National Post (Latest Edition)

Veil of ig­no­rance

- TAREK FATAH Na­tional Post tarek­fa­tah@rogers.com

Barely a week goes by in which my Is­lamic faith does not face a fresh round of scru­tiny. If it is not a sui­cide bomber blow­ing him­self up in an Iraqi mosque scream­ing “ Al­lahu Ak­bar” it is news that an imam in Malaysia has de­clared the prac­tice of Yoga sin­ful. If it is not a Toronto Imam de­fend­ing sui­cide bomb­ing on a TVO talk show, it is a Mus­lim woman writ­ing a col­umn in a Cana­dian daily, ad­vo­cat­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of shariah law in Canada.

But the one topic that gen­er­ates heat more than any other is that of a Mus­lim woman’s sup­posed “tra­di­tional” at­tire. Whether in swim­ming pools or polling booths, there is no es­cape from the re­peated con­tro­ver­sies sur­round­ing the face mask, bet­ter known as the niqab or burqa.

The lat­est in­car­na­tion of the niqab con­tro­versy sur­faced this week, when a Toronto judge or­dered a Mus­lim woman to take off her niqab when she tes­ti­fied in a case of sex­ual as­sault.

The woman in­voked Is­lam as the rea­son why she wanted to give tes­ti­mony while wear­ing a face mask. She told the judge: “It’s a re­spect is­sue, one of mod­esty,” be­fore adding that it was a matte of Is­lamic “hon­our.”

Th­ese explanatio­ns were re­jected by the judge, who de­ter­mined that the woman’s “re­li­gious be­lief” was not par­tic­u­larly strong, and that, in his opin­ion, the woman was ask­ing to wear the niqab as “a mat­ter of com­fort.”

But such ar­gu­ments are be­side the point — for they are premised on ac- cep­tance of the myth that a face mask for women is a nec­es­sary part of re­li­giously pre­scribed Is­lamic at­tire, which is non­sense.

There is no re­quire­ment in Is­lam for Mus­lim women to cover their face. Rather, the prac­tice re­flects a mode of male con­trol over women. Its as­so­ci­a­tion with Is­lam orig­i­nates in Saudi Ara­bia, which seeks to ex­port the prac­tice of veil­ing — along with other el­e­ments of its aus­tere Wah­habist brand of Is­lam — to Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties around the world.

If read­ers have any doubt about this is­sue, they should take a look at the holi­est place for Mus­lims — the grand mosque in Mecca. For over 1,400 years, Mus­lim men and women have prayed in what we be­lieve is the House of God, and for all th­ese cen­turies, fe­male vis­i­tors have been ex­plic­itly for­bid­den from cov­er­ing their faces .

For the bet­ter part of the 20th cen­tury, Mus­lim re­formists, from Egypt to In­dia, cam­paigned against this ter­ri­ble tribal custom im­posed by Wah­habi Is­lam. My mother’s gen­er­a­tion threw off their burqas when Mus­lim coun­tries gained their in­de­pen­dence af­ter the Sec­ond World War. Mil­lions of women, en­cour­aged by their hus- bands, fathers and sons, shed this op­pres­sive at­tire as the first step in em­brac­ing gen­der equal­ity.

But while the rest of the world moves to­ward the goal of gen­der equal­ity, right here in Canada, un­der our very noses, Is­lamists are push­ing back the clock, con­vinc­ing ed­u­cated Mus­lim women they are mere cor­rupt­ing sex­ual ob­jects and a source of sin.

Most of Canada’s growth in niqabi women can be traced to 2004, when a rad­i­cal Pak­istani fe­male scholar by the name of Farhat Hashmi came to this coun­try on a vis­i­tor’s visa. Af­ter ar­rival, she was twice de­nied a work per­mit. But that didn’t stop her from es­tab­lish­ing a Mus­lim school in Mis­sis­sauga, Ont. that prosle­tyzed Wah­habist norms — in­clud­ing the wear­ing of the niqab, leav­ing the work­force and em­brac­ing polygamy.

A ma­jor­ity of Cana­dian Mus­lims have looked on in shock, un­able to un­der­stand why this coun­try would tol­er­ate the op­pres­sion of women in the name of re­li­gion and mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism.

The woman who was de­nied her burqa in court this week is a vic­tim: She is a pup­pet in the hands of those who wish to keep women in their place. But when she in­voked Is­lam, and said hid­ing her face would be an act of re­li­gios­ity, she be­came a voice not for jus­tice, but for those who wish to sneak shariah law into our ju­di­cial sys­tem.

Tarek Fatah is au­thor of Chas­ing a Mirage: The Tragic Il­lu­sion of an Is­lamic State.

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