National Post (Latest Edition)

Veil of ignorance

- TAREK FATAH National Post

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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