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An Open Letter To Quebec

I am Muslim. 

I wear the hijab. 
I am Canadian, and a first generation one at that. 

Both my parents, from Somalia, left civil war and extremism behind in hopes of a better life. The two have them have been citizens for a little more than 3 decades, respectively. My siblings and I have all been born here and were taught to appreciate this country. To live up to your potential, mindful of the fact that not everyone that looks like you can. It is safe enough to dream in this country. Come as you are, do what you can. 

That is why my parents chose Canada. 

And the Quebec government chose to turn their back on that very idea. 

New legislation makes it illegal for anyone to wear face coverings when giving or receiving a public service, and “face coverings” includes the niqab, a traditional veil that covers everything on a Muslim woman’s face except her eyes, and most of her upper body. It is an expression of modesty, and how some Muslim women choose to express and practice their faith. You cannot wear the niqab when riding public transit, or working in the public sector. What happens to Muslim women who wear Islamic face coverings wish to access public services?? Or the ones who wear the niqab to work?? Must they now choose between a career and their faith??

I understand the need for safety and security. People tend to relate this Islamic dress with extremism. But banning a specific type of dress in the name of security does not curb terrorism. In fact, all it does further fan the flames of Islamophobia and fear of immigrants. Making it seem okay to ban certain religious clothing implies that there is something wrong with it. When we should be championing inclusivity of religious identities, we are instead further marginalizing Islam, and silently giving permission to those who wish to discriminate against Muslims, specifically Muslim women. 

I also understand the need for identity. The niqab (as common as it is for religious women to dress modestly, take nuns for example) is not western dress. It belongs to Islam, mostly the Middle East. 

But Muslims are Canadian. And Canadians are Muslim. 

Quebec is a centerpiece of Canadian identity. Our French roots, along with catholicism’s beliefs are heavily present there. I understand the fever to keep heritage going but know that there are different parts to the Canadian identity. We are not a melting pot, spilling into each other. 

We are a mosaic. 

Every part is valuable, unique, and important. With even one part missing, the mosaic is not complete, nor is it as beautiful. And freedom of religion and the right to religious expression is a part of the mosaic that we worked so hard to build. 

Women in my family make the conscious decision to wear the hijab. What a woman wears is a choice. A personal, intimate choice. By banning the niqab, you are taking away that choice. 

It is no secret that in some countries, Muslim women are forbidden to dress a certain way. Their bodies, and what they put on it are not within their control. Now, if you force Muslim women to subscribe to your definition of “identity” and what a Canadian looks like, you are no better than the people half a world away who constrict what a woman can wear. 

Like I said, I value my safety and security just as much as the next Canadian, but I refuse to go after the rights of Muslim Canadian women in the name of safety and security. The world is an unstable place right now, and unsurprisingly, Canada has kept it together. I am incredibly proud of my country. Always have been, and always will be. Our refusal to give in to fear and our refusal to turn on each other in times of uncertainty is what makes us who we are. 

Let us never forget that. Let us never go back on that either. After all, we are The True North Strong and Free. 

Image via Getty (Oman, Muscat)