Why I intend to wear a niqab at my citizenship ceremony
Zunera Ishaq, the woman at the centre of a debate over whether the niqab should be allowed at citizenship ceremonies, explains why she wears one, regardless of what Stephen Harper thinks.
I am Zunera Ishaq. I am a mother. I am university educated. I believe that the environment needs saving and I try to do my part by joining campaigns to plant trees. Chasing my boys in the snow is one of the things I love most about winter. I believe we should strive to give back to others, and for me that means volunteering: at women’s shelters, for political candidates or at schools.
I also wear a niqab. And according to my prime minister, that is all you need to know about me to know that I am oppressed.
It’s precisely because I won’t listen to how other people want me to live my life that I wear a niqab. Some of my own family members have asked me to remove it. I have told them that I prefer to think for myself.
My desire to live on my own terms is also why I have chosen to challenge the government’s decision to deny me citizenship unless I take off my niqab at my oath ceremony. I have taken my niqab off for security and identity reasons in every case where that’s been required of me, such as when I have taken a driver’s license photo or gone through airport security. I will take my niqab off again before the oath ceremony without protest so I can be properly identified. I will not take my niqab off at that same ceremony for the sole reason that someone else doesn’t like it, even if that person happens to be Stephen Harper.
I am not looking for Mr. Harper to approve my life choices or dress. I am certainly not looking for him to speak on my behalf and “save” me from oppression, without even ever having bothered to reach out to me and speak with me.
And by the way, if he had bothered to ask me why I wear a niqab instead of making assumptions, I would have told him that it was a decision I took very seriously after I had looked into the matter thoroughly. I would tell him that aside from the religious aspect, I like how it makes me feel: like people have to look beyond what I look like to get to know me. That I don’t have to worry about my physical appearance and can concentrate on my inner self. That it empowers me in this regard.
While I recognize that it’s not for everyone, it is for me. To me, the most important Canadian value is the freedom to be the person of my own choosing. To me, that’s more indicative of what it means to be Canadian than what I wear.
I am looking, however, for Mr. Harper to govern according to the law of Canada and not according his own personal preference. That is why I was very happy when the Federal Court ruled in my favour and found that the policy was not in line with the government’s own Citizenship Act.
And now that Mr. Harper is so busy speaking about me in public, I am looking for him to include me in the discussion.
Zunera Ishaq has been a permanent resident of Canada since 2008. She has put her citizenship ceremony on hold since last year, in order to ask the Federal Court to judge the legality of the 2012 Conservative policy requiring her to remove her niqab for that purpose. The Federal Court found that the policy was illegal and ordered that it be struck down.