KITCHENER, Waterloo – Canadian Muslim women are launching a new initiative to correct misconceptions associated with their Islamic dress, hijab and freedom rights as well as answering the regular questions that surround women’s rights in Islam.
“We don’t want to be defined by being covered or not covered,” Fauzia Mazhar, co-ordinator of the Coalition of Muslim Women, Kitchener-Waterloo, told The Record website on Friday, June 10.
“We want to go beyond the hijab (head covering). We have passions, personalities and purposes in life.”
Facing regular questions about being oppressed and abused by their husbands, the coalition of Muslim women planned an event on Saturday titled a ‘Day of Dialogue.’
Meeting with non-Muslim attendants, the panel will address five topics related to women in Islam including, education and leadership; rights and responsibilities; religious duties; Islamic dress and the hijab; and marriage and divorce.
Following a question-and-answer session, participants will be able to have one-on-one conversations with Muslim women in what the group calls the “human library.”
“People don’t know about Muslim women,” said Mazhar, a health worker at the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre.
“They have misconceptions and stereotypes.”
Muslims make around 1.9 percent of Canada's 32.8 million population, and Islam is the number one non-Christian faith in the Roman Catholic country.
A survey has showed the overwhelming majority of Muslims are proud to be Canadian.
A similar initiative was launched last week by a group of Canadian Muslim women in Winnipeg who organized an all-woman forum to fight stereotypes and correct mistaken beliefs about women position in Islam.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
As for the face veil, the majority of Muslim scholars believe that a woman is not obliged to cover her face or hands.
Taking the decision to don hijab, Nazneen Zaidi of Kitchener said many people assumed her husband forced her to take the decision of covering her hair.
“I loved it. It was respect and real freedom,” Zaidi, who was born in Montreal and has a master’s degree in educational technology from Concordia University, said.
“You get to know me from what’s up here (pointing to her head).”
Defending her right to wear hijab, she noted that Islam treats women as equal to men in duties and responsibilities.
“Men and women are equal under the eyes of God and the law of Islam,” said the mother of three.
“Roles are different but the responsibilities to the family are the same. There is not leadership.”
Unlike Zaidi, Uzma Bhutto, who came to Canada from Pakistan in 2005, doesn’t cover her head.
“I’m not courageous at the moment,” said Bhutto, who is related to former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated in 2007.
Bhutto, who works at the downtown health centre and is a master’s student at the University of Waterloo, noted that she respects those who take such a decision.
“I have huge respect for those who do (cover their heads),” she said
Minna Ella of Waterloo was another example drawn to audience who were curious about her face veil or niqab.
Taking her decision to don hijab at a young age, Ella decided to wear niqab when she turned 17.
“My father didn’t force it upon me and my husband didn’t force it upon me,” said Ella, who was born in London, Ont. and then lived in the United States, Egypt and Germany before moving in Waterloo in 2007.
“This is a sign of faith, of Muslim identity,” said Ella, a mother of three.
Ella said she usually gets the same answer when asking people what they think of her when all they can see of her face is her eyes.
“I get the same answer, oppression. It’s out there,” she said.
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