Very few pieces of faith based clothing in Canada have ignited as much impassioned debates as the Muslim practice of the niqab. Covering the woman’s body and hair and leaving only the eyes visible, the niqab has often been problematized as a symbol of Islamic extremism, women’s oppression and lastly the failure of Muslims to integrate. The Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) is no stranger when it comes to addressing the very issues that affect Canadian Muslim communities, including debates concerning Muslim women and their choice of dress. Committed to the equality, equity, empowerment and diversity of Muslim women and their voices, for more than 30 years the national organization has delivered community based projects and advocated on behalf of Muslim women and their families. CCMW has previously issued position papers about the niqab and also presented our statements to government bodies. This has resulted in the media, policy officials, community organizations and other inquiring minds asking the Council to weigh in on the debate.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.
The findings of this report authored by Dr. Lynda Clarke of Concordia University paint a dynamic, engaging picture of Canadian women who wear the niqab and challenge many of the mainstream presumptions and stereotypes that are presented in the media, policy circles and the wider public. A total of approximately 81 women who wore the niqab participated in this study, 38 of whom responded to online surveys, 35 that participated in focus groups in Mississauga, Montreal, Ottawa and Waterloo and 8 who participated in in-depth individual interviews.