Douglas Todd: Niqabs: The paradoxical world of Zunera Ishaq

Interesting interview with Zunera Ishaq, the woman at the heart of the niqab citizenship controversy:

How did it come to pass that the so-called “liberal” media, and prominent Canadian feminists, championed the 29-year-old suburban Toronto woman who insisted on wearing in a civil ceremony one of the world’s most provoking symbols of patriarchy?

What background was missing from the debate over the niqab?

I was able to obtain Ishaq’s responses to some of these questions this week.

Ishaq told me she respects Mulcair and Trudeau for defending her niqab, and for standing for multicultural “choice” and tolerance.

She went out of her way to say she also respects Harper, “who created all the mess. He was following his conscience.”

Our telephone conversation revealed a woman who inhabits a world of paradoxes, which the Oxford Dictionary defines as “seemingly absurd or self-contradictory propositions.”

On one hand, the famous 29-year-old Sunni Muslim sounded libertarian and morally relativistic, emphasizing “every person is free to live in a way in which he or she feels is right.”

On the other hand she also seems the opposite. She is ultraconservative on segregation of the sexes, homosexuality, abortion, obeying Islamic commands and women being “unclean” during menstruation.

As niqabs become more common in Canada — a regular sight on campuses, including the University of B.C. — it’s worth understanding the apparent contradictions associated with defending this stark symbol of gender inequality.

Since Ishaq was often portrayed as standing up for all Muslim women, it’s important to note hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world, and the majority of the 1.1 million Muslims in Canada, disapprove of the niqab.

Ishaq said she respects the many Muslims who disagree with her. That includes the imam at another Metro Toronto mosque who, not knowing she was present, criticized her for insisting on wearing the niqab.

Women rarely wear the niqab in most Muslim-majority countries, where scarves covering the hair or no headdress are more common. Niqabs have been banned in some Muslim countries, because they were used in crimes and terrorist attacks.

Ishaq’s religiously torn homeland of Pakistan, which she and her family were preparing this week to visit, is one of the few countries where Pew Research found support for the niqab, with 32 per cent saying women should cover their faces.

Only a few hardline Muslim leaders, including in Saudi Arabia, require women to wear long black abayas and press for them to cover their faces.

“Saudi Arabia has chosen that law,” Ishaq said, in one of repeated references to the supreme value she places on “choice,” including at the political level.

“I would not say that it’s wrong. I would not say it’s exactly right in Islam. So I would not like to comment.”

She agreed Islamic tradition advocates only personal “modesty.” And she acknowledged nothing in the Qur’an mandates women covering their faces.

“I do not feel that Muslim women who do not wear the niqab are lesser than me. What I’ve done is my choice, another opinion.”

Ishaq also called homosexualitya “choice,” which goes against the predominant understanding among gays and lesbians.

“Being a Muslim, it’s my view that homosexuality is not the right thing. But I have to tolerate it, without discrimination and without hatred. I have no issues with people who are homosexual. That’s their choice. But I definitely do not think it’s right.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Niqabs: The paradoxical world of Zunera Ishaq | Vancouver Sun

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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