The City for All Women Initiative (CAWI) is asking Canadian women in the nation’s capital to offer support for the Hijab, the head covering worn by many Muslim women. It is their belief that in order to eliminate hatred and Islamophobia, all non–Muslim women should unit and wear the hijab on February 25th at Ottawa city hall.
Although not all Muslim women wear the Hijab, those who wear it, do so as a religious obligation. I have yet to meet a non-Muslim woman who wears the Hijab as a form of cultural expression. However, I have met many devout followers of Islam, who say that the Hijab is not a required tenet of faith.
Canada is a diverse multi-cultural society where many religious and cultural groups live together peacefully, with mutual respect for each other’s customs. Two years ago, when the Quebec Charter of Values was first proposed, I spoke out against the clause that limited the right of individuals, in specified circumstances, to wear symbols of their religion.
However, in this case, I staunchly oppose the planned “Hijab Day”. I cannot abide the idea that we, non-Muslim Canadian women, demonstrate support for our Muslim sisters by wearing a hijab. The hijab is a reflection of religious beliefs; it is not a fashion statement. Why should any non-Muslim woman wear such a religious symbol?
As a non-Muslim woman who was forced to wear a hijab, the idea of this event brings back terrible memories for me. I was born and raised in Shiraz, Iran. From the age of 14 to 17, I was obliged to wear a hijab with the rise of the Iranian Islamic government. I was neither a supporter of the new regime nor a Muslim, and I bitterly resented having to hide my hair and comply with the new restrictive policies. It was not an option for me to disobey the rule. All women had to adhere to the same policy, without debate, and disobedience was met with severe consequences such as arrest and the fear of being assaulted by acid-tossing vigilantes. I am grateful that in Canada we have the freedom to express ourselves as we please, in contrast to the countries that make it mandatory for women to wear this religious symbol regardless of their belief.
Any Canadian woman can wear the hijab if she sees fit, just as any Sikh male can wear a turban. Canada is a free country and Canadians have the right to live according to their own dictates, religious beliefs and social customs. Our laws have clearly established that this is our right. In this context, I cannot understand why we should gather and wear the hijab to demonstrate our solidarity for a garment that is guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I have many Muslim friends and I am eager to know their customs but they never asked me to cover myself in solidarity for them.
Jews do not have a “Wear a Kippa Day” to support Jewish men. Sikhs never demanded a “Turban Day” to support Sikh males. So why have a “Hijab Day”?
New immigrants and refugees come to Canada for many reasons. Many find themselves caught between the traditions and culture of their homeland, and liberal Canadian attitudes. There is no question that coming to a new country can be difficult. I know. I have stood on both sides of the immigration line myself.
As a Canadian, it is crucial that we remain faithful to the rights that are entrenched within our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. All forms of religious expressions are equal and none require special treatment.
My personal history with the Hijab makes it impossible for me to accept covering my hair. I will forever identify it with the repressive tradition of the Iranian Islamic government, which used its dominance of religion to control its people. I encourage Muslim women all over the world to promote their culture and identity; I will gladly eat at their table, sing a song of celebration, and rejoice at their success. Nonetheless, to suggest we endorse their religious beliefs by wearing a hijab is unreasonable in this country, which has so clearly promoted the rights of minority members to lives as they please.
I welcome my Hijab-wearing Muslim sisters. But I refuse to wear the Hijab in their support, as a pre-requisite for their solidarity. I would never dare ask them to remove their Hijab in solidarity with non-Muslim Canadian women because this would mean that my values are more important than theirs. After all, isn’t that the Canadian way?
Dr. Sima Goel has been a practicing chiropractor in Montreal since 1994. She is the author of Fleeing The Hijab, A Jewish Woman’s Escape From Iran. Dr. Goel accepts invitations to share her story. For further information, please contact Dr. Goel, email@example.com