Canadian, eh? Although Canadians everywhere take advantage of their right to dress almost any way they choose, some clothes still prompt surprising remarks

Canadian, eh? Although Canadians everywhere take advantage of their right to dress almost any way they choose, some clothes still prompt surprising remarks

Uzma Chaudhry

“So what’s the temperature in Iraq?” I looked around and realized that the nurse on duty was asking me this apparently irrelevant question. “How would I know?” I responded with a grin, still not quite getting what was going on here. Considering that I’m a new resident at the hospital, maybe it was just her way of being friendly. “Oh, I just thought … never mind.” she responded with a blank look on her face.

Then it hit me. My hijab, the head covering many Muslim women like myself wear out in public, had caught her attention. I’m Muslim, right? So I must be aware of all the climate changes of Islamic countries across the globe. Heh.

I don’t mean to be sarcastic; I know that this person was really trying to be nice to me and honestly did not think anything of what she’d just asked. And it isn’t a big deal at all. It’s just funny how people can connect one thing to another; to this woman, my hijab must have reminded her of something she saw on CNN or read in the paper and she in turn questioned me as a totally normal reflex.

I have worn a hijab for a large part of my life. For me it is part of who I am–like my voice, my height or my sense of humour. It’s just there. It’s been a part of me for so long that I become surprised when others notice it or point it out. Some people think I’m making a political statement by covering my head while others, including some of my own culture, believe me to be backward. Yet if anyone were to take the time to ask me why, the answer to me is simple; it’s because I love Allah, and according to my beliefs, modesty is a key part of Islamic dress. By covering my head I believe Allah would be pleased with me.

I don’t by any means think that the hijab is unattractive or oppressive; for most Muslim women like myself living in the developed world, it’s liberating. Hijab is not the only part of Islamic dress; our dress head to toe is about humility and not placing importance on material objects like clothing and jewellery to render us attractive. No one is forcing me to look like this or threatening to punish me if I do not follow. Most definitely Islam itself does not enforce any compulsion through religion. I wear it because I believe in what it stands for.

I feel lucky to live in a country as wonderful as Canada where I can choose how I want to look and how I want the world to see me. We have a wonderful document that is called the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Everyday when I walk into Regina General Hospital I use that document as a cover over me to allow me to be who I am. As the people of this country, and especially as women, we are lucky to have a constitution that, at least in theory, supports the struggles for equality, liberty and justice unlike many countries on the other side of the globe.

The media has a very patronizing relationship with the developing countries of the world, Islamic republics often being the target. It must be fun for those news editors to show these women draped in heavy clothes fearing for their lives because of an oppressive regime as the dominant image of the poor, illiterate third world. Having parents that came here from that “impoverished” majority world, and having a Canadian upbringing has helped me gain some insight into the plight of women across the globe. Does the western media really have a right to exploit the plight of the majority world when in our own back yard we have single mothers struggling to raise their children without any paternal support? Where sexual and physical assault is still a common problem seen day to day in our hospitals? And where prostitution is often the sole source of income for many women? As with all countries in the world, our governments are not perfect and often are not interested in the will of the public. The oppressive regimes in the majority world do not reflect Islam anymore than the political leaders in the West, who are setting up military empires in the name of freedom, reflect average North Americans. In this day and age, it has become a common practice to subjugate a people in the name of something else.

I find it hard to believe the controversies that have developed over the fight for secularism and free will in France. Women who have been wearing the hijab are now being told they will face persecution for wearing a “religious symbol.” Again, it’s worth asking if this is actually a fight for a secular state or just the use of semantics to appeal to the larger masses while attaining a different agenda. The government of France justifies its actions by saying that they area secular state. It is becoming apparent that they believe that the establishment of such a state is worth the cost of sacrificing personal choice and freedom.

Nevertheless, France still calls itself a democracy. Of course, at this point the concern for this new rule is minimal around the world. Perhaps the lack of reaction is because this change will be mostly affecting Muslim women, therefore others are less concerned. But I find it frightening that a law that so blatantly has taken away a person’s right to their appearance can so easily be established. Yet it has. The inevitable question of course is what comes next.

I again am thankful that I’m a Canadian and that I do have certain rights and choices that allow me to be who I am and to expect respect from those around me. All of us have that right, but if the government of France could take this right away from their people while still proclaiming themselves a democracy, I wonder if we in this country will be strong enough to identify our rights and protect them from any government interference in the future.

A quote of Ramsey Clark, ironically a former USA attorney general, often comes to mind: “A right is not what someone gives you; it’s what no one can take from you.” As people of this country, Jet’s hope we can keep this message close to our hearts.

Uzma Chaudhry is a Canadian born Muslim who is doing her residency in family medicine at Regina General Hospital and writing in her free time.

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