Canadian Council of Muslim Women:
in Niqab Speak: A Study of the Niqab in
Direct English Link: [English] Women in Niqab Speak: A study of the niqab in Canada
Direct French Link: [Francais] Paroles de Femmes qui Portent le Niqab
7 January 2014 - Very few pieces of
faith based clothing in
This study can be seen as a response to this growing national conversation and a reflection of CCMW’s values and continued commitment to the plurality of Muslim communities. It represents an attempt to cast light on the existing agency of and provide space for Canadian Muslim women who wear the niqab to speak for themselves. This study is not intended to dwell upon the religious or theological basis of the practice itself, but rather it is first and foremost about the lived experiences of the women and the diverse narratives that they have shared in their responses. The niqab itself is a complex issue and raises many questions for Muslim communities and the wider Canadian population itself. These questions do not yield simple answers, but they must be explored through open and honest discussion.
The findings of this report authored by
Dr. Lynda Clarke of
Keeping in mind the limitations of the
sample, based on available data in the study the typical profile of woman in
niqab is that of a married foreign-born citizen in her twenties to early
thirties who adopted the practice after arriving in
In terms of religious orientation, the majority of the respondents in the study adopted what can be viewed as a “conservative” approach to Islam. For instance, the majority of respondents did not agree with the practice of dating and did not believe that homosexuality was an acceptable practice. Yet the presence of a conservative religious outlook amongst participants did not translate into a uniformity of attitudes towards the niqab itself and whether it was a religiously mandatory practice. 44.7% of those surveyed established that it was necessary for a Muslim woman to wear it; while 47.4% indicated “Not necessary, but advisable” and 6.4% indicated that it was not, illustrating the variety of religious understandings concerning the article of dress amongst the participants themselves.
The reasons for why Canadian women wore the niqab, as the author notes were “highly personal and individual” with a mixture of responses and rationales. Yet, “religious obligation” including attaining a deeper stage in one’s religious development and “expression of Muslim identity” featured prominently in participants’ explanations, with sub-themes such as self-study/religious role models, appropriate gender-relations, confidence/self-esteem and freedom from the pressures of fashion also playing a determining factor. Present in only a minority of rationales for wearing the niqab were husbands and families as many of the participants came from families where they faced opposition for wearing it, often taking on the practice without consulting their families. While a small number of women cited spousal encouragement for why they wore the niqab, many women indicated facing spousal opposition and explained that their larger struggle was with soliciting spousal support for their decision.
In response to religious accommodation and access to government services, including social, legal and health, all of our participants indicated that there would be situations when it was necessary to uncover or show their face including airport security, ID cards, accessing hospital services or even driving. As one interviewee indicated, “It’s part of our religion to cooperate with the government, so we have to.” When asked if it was appropriate to show their face in accessing government services, most of the participants indicated “Sometimes.” While many of the respondents indicated a preference for female service providers (physicians), some of the participants did not oppose receiving services from men. Interestingly, rather than describing their access to services as problematic, most of the women in the study expressed that their niqabs did not affect their access and relayed positive sentiments. Similar views were expressed when asked about access to education, where the majority of participants expressed comfort and acceptance in their educational programs.
This larger trend of tolerance and
The recently proposed Charter of Quebec Values has once again brought religious forms of dress and the question of religious accommodation to the forefront and CCMW’s position on the matter has remained steadfast. While CCMW does not agree that the niqab is a religiously mandatory practice, the Council upholds the right of every woman to dress as she wishes as she has the freedom to interpret her religion as she believes. We denounce any state action which limits the ability of peoples to wear religious clothing as it is not the role nor responsibility of governments to control women’s and men’s bodies and forms of dress. Moreover, CCMW agrees that the accommodation for Muslim women to wear the face veil must be within reasonable limits and that women should show their faces under certain circumstances for the purposes of safety and security, a sentiment that was shared by the overwhelming majority of women in this study.
CCMW would like to extend its gratitude
to the Ontario Trillium Foundation whose generous funds allowed this project to
become a reality. The Council is also grateful to its Chapters and volunteers
who worked tirelessly to gather participants and organize focus groups. CCMW
is also indebted to Dr. Lynda Clarke and her research team at
Lynda Clarke is Professor of Religion and Islam in the
Department of Religion at