Special Report: Behind the Veil
Published Thursday, April 1, 2010 2:02PM EDT
For its opponents, the niqab is a symbol of the oppression of women.
But Shama Naz, one of the approximately two dozen who wears the niqab in Quebec, says she is not oppressed and wants people to understand her perspective.
The Montreal woman says she never thought about wearing the veil when she lived overseas.
"I never wore it in Pakistan, because I didn't live too long in Pakistan, I was very little," said Naz. "I did wear it in Saudi Arabia, and over there I wore it because everybody else does it."
It was only when she moved to Quebec ten years ago that she realized the wearing the veil could be a strong symbol of her faith.
"I debated wearing it... debated in the sense that I wasn't sure that it was something I was going to continue on doing," said Naz. "It's a completely different society."
Searching for guidance
Naz started researching the Qur'an and other islamic texts for guidance.
The word niqab does not appear in the islamic holy book, but other clothing is discussed.
"There's two pieces, articles of clothing if I may say, the jilbab and hilmad, and how do you wear them. That is what is described in the Qur'an," said Naz.
Islamic scholars have been debating for centuries whether the qur'anic calls to modesty include covering a woman's face or not.
Naz believes it does, but she does not expect others to dress the same way she does.
"I'm not expecting anybody else to wear a niqab. I'm talking about myself, that's what is so appealing about living in a free society."
When pressed, Naz says wearing the niqab "it was my decision, yeah," and her husband of three years has no say in the matter.
A mother of two girls, she does not know, and says she will not force Sunduz or Marjaan to wear a veil.
"I would educate them about it, but I would never make the choice about their lives," said Naz. "If they would not to wear it I don't have any control over them."
With a degree in Economics from Concordia University, Naz is very well aware that wearing the niqab is an often difficult choice.
One day, while being followed by a CTV camera, Naz and her sister, who also wears a niqab, went for a walk along Lakeshore Blvd. in Pointe Claire while pushing a baby in a stroller.
They were met by disapproving glances and double takes before one woman screamed at them "Go back to your country."
The woman then walked up to the sisters and yelled at them again.
Naz's sister yelled back, "This is my country."
It's a sentiment that Naz shares wholeheartedly.
Willingness to compromise
A devout muslim, Naz prays five times a day, and attends mosque when she can.
When she needs to reveal her face to government officials for identification, she does so without hesitation, but with a request.
"I would ask if a woman were available and if there were none available at the premise I had no problem or issues with identifying myself with a male personel or staff that was available," said Naz.
"It takes two seconds to flip it back."
This piece of cloth has created a fury in Quebec, with the majority calling it a symbol of male dominance over muslim women, but Naz says the physical act of putting on the niqab is an act of worship that gives her strength, confidence, and peace, by allowing her to choose who will see her face, and who won't.
"I don't wear the niqab at home," said Naz. "I only wear it when I am going outside or where I am in the company of men that are not related to me."
That edict applied to her own husband, who did not see Naz's face until their wedding day.
Naz admits that some muslim communities oppress women, but she condemns that attitude.
She also does not think a law banning public servants from wearing the niqab is the answer.
"It's a sad state of affairs for civil liberties," said Naz.
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