Here in Canada, the “voting with veils” controversy has resurfaced in the media and political spectrum. Way back in March, I linked to an article that was covering the events surrounding the issue at the time.

That was specifically regarding Quebec, but the latest news has come in regarding federal elections: munaqqabah women will not be required to show their faces before voting.

Mind you, our Prime Minister Stephen Harper isn't very happy about it – as yet, however, it doesn't seem like he can do anything about it.

A few things have come to my mind while paying half-attention to the various discussions that have come up as a result of this issue. First of all, I think that the entire issue is ridiculous. Before anyone jumps me for not respecting the right of our sisters in Islam to wear the niqaab, let me tell you that my own mom wears the niqaab, and she totally agrees with me!

I really don't understand what the big deal is. This article discusses the topic in more detail, mentioning that the women will be asked to show their faces to a female officer (as is common practice for munaqqabah's when required to for legal papers and whatnot); however, if they refuse they'll be allowed to go through. Another article notes that the alternative form of identification for permission to vote would be to have another registered voter in the same neighbourhood vouch for them.

I'm not the only one confused about the hullaboo, either.

Mohamed Elmasry of the Canadian Islamic Congress echoed Dion's sentiments. “We don't want to force anybody to change their religious inclination and beliefs,” he explained, pointing out it is also important for women from religious minorities to vote. “At the same time there is a certain level of integrity in the election process that we must maintain.”

Alia Hogben of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women agreed with the prime minister's position, and said too much was being made of the veil issue.

“I think he's right, I think for something like elections… women would be happy to show their faces, I don't think it would be a problem,” Hogben said. “I think it's being made into a problem and it doesn't need to be.”

“For us the sad thing is it's always focusing on Muslims and as far as I know it wasn't a request made by Muslims,” Hogben added. “It probably came up (from) Elections Canada – with good intentions thinking they would try to accommodate people – but I don't think it's necessary.” (Canada.com)

While Elections Canada may have meant well, it was, as sister Alia said, unneccessary. And though it's a totally different issue, there are still some similarities to what sister Ruth discussed here. Someone did something because of what they thought Muslims would want/ how Muslims would feel: in one case, the cartoon was self-censored by the newspaper; in this case, Elections Canada ruled that munaqqabah women didn't have to show their faces when going to vote. In both cases, it doesn't seem that Muslims were consulted at all before these moves were made, presumably “in consideration” of our sensibilities. Thanks, but no thanks.

Already, I can see the consequences of the media coverage amongst the masses: as sister Ruth said, the feeling of “other,” of “us vs. them,” that many non-Muslims have about Muslims is simply being reinforced. Another common attitude that's worth noting is that they feel like we're being overly fussy and causing a lot of problems.

I'm afraid that due to scenarios like these, we may end up with a “boy-who-cried-wolf” kind of case: what if something that's actually serious, something that actually matters to us, comes up – but our concerns and opinions are dismissed because the prevailing attitude amongst the non-Muslim majority would be, “Oh, it's just those Muslims again, making a fuss over nothing.”

I think that such an attitude, and allowing it to fester, is pretty bad for the Muslim community in Canada. Al-Hamdulillaah, overall we get along well with our non-Muslim neighbours, but to think that there's no such thing as racism, hatred, or prejudice here is a naive illusion (one which, I confess, I subscribed to for quite a while, until a certain personal incident occurred that burst my happy bubble).

We really need to watch how we, and our issues, are portrayed in the media – they'll never be 100% accurate, but we do need to make sure that they don't go off the deep end and publish things that will make things worse for us in the long run. We don't have control over what they'll say, of course, but we can do our part by 1) making sure that our 'official' reactions/ statements (i.e. those issued by Islamic organizations and masajid) don't reinforce whatever stereotype they have of us and which they're trying to confirm (whether it's the “radical Muslim” or “weakling Muslim” stereotype), and 2) whenever we see anything in the media that we know is not true, take the time to write a letter to the editor, or to the publisher, or whoever, and tell them so! Make sure your tone isn't too aggressive or too wishy-washy, and be sure to provide proof. It's something I try to do on a regular basis, and so far it's worked, wal-Hamdulillaah.

Basically, whenever the word “Muslim” is mentioned in the media, we need to be careful, and watchful. Various issues and our reactions to them will all play a part in forming the public's attitude towards Islam and Muslim, so we have to act with hikmah (wisdom) and take the course of action that will have the best consequences for the future, insha'Allah.

May Allah guide us to making the right decisions and act in the best way, ameen.

7 Responses

  1. Humairah

    I had a discussion on this with someone last week, and it baffles me why they’d step up to make this compensation for niqabis when it hasn’t been asked for. What’s the hidden agenda here?
    You’re right, we need to be careful, but not just watchful.. we should be like the intelligence, several years ahead in planning and execution, so that we can act before we become a victim of the “boy who cried wolf” case.

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  2. Abu Salih

    Election rules clearly say a picture I.D. is not requiered, so elections canada officials simply followed the rules by saying veiled women can vote. Now, the bye-elections are all taking place in quebec, the most hostile province in canada when it comes to muslims. The majority of quebecers don’t even believe muslim women should be wearing hijaabs in public let alone niqaabs. The party leaders are only taking advantage of this climate cause the elections are in quebec and they want to endear themselves to them. otherwise, they themselves passed this law only last year with no objections from any party. This province is the key to a majority government for the conservatives, it’s the liberal stronghold of old, the ndp wants to breakthrough here, and the bloc is playing a game for seperation. IT’S ALL POLITICS.

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  3. Faraz

    Canadian electoral laws allow citizens to vote by mail (example). With such a provision, I have no idea why they’re making such a big deal about this. And like others have mentioned, no one is demanding it.

    The majority of quebecers don’t even believe muslim women should be wearing hijaabs in public let alone niqaabs

    This is a bit of an exaggeration – it’s a vocal minority that objects to the hijab in Quebec. Nearly half of the entire population of Quebec resides in and around the island of Montreal, where there have been the occasional incidents of anti-hijab sentiment, but which is overwhelmingly accommodating. Anti-Muslim sentiment is stronger in electoral ridings which hold little weight. Winning those areas over, while losing out on the Montreal region is foolish.

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  4. AnonyMouse

    Humairah:
    Absolutely! Unfortunately, I don’t think that the organizations we have to represent us here (CAIR-CAN, CIC) are really able to do that for us… though they’ve all spoken out on this issue, as quoted above, I wonder if they see the potential for the “boy-who-cried-wolf” case that exists due to issues like this. If so, what are they going to do about it?
    Hmmmmmmm, maybe I should write to them and see…

    Abu Salih & Faraz:
    Yes, the fact that visual ID isn’t required anyway has come up several times – it’s extremely odd.

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  5. Humairah

    I’ve worked with CAIR CAN very briefly, but quite closely a while ago (when Riad Saloojee was their ED), and they’re working very hard for the Muslims, and they’re definitely way ahead of the game. A lot of work happens behind the scenes that we will never hear about.
    Do write to them. And I’m sure they can always use the help of people like you :)
    And I’d say the same about CIC as well- Mashallah, they’re doing a lot of good work.

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