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 masājid) 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, inshā'Allāh.
May Allāh guide us to making the right decisions and act in the best way, āmīn.