New Canadian Media

By: Manaal Farooqi in Toronto, ON

One in every five Canadian women is born outside of the country. However, despite diverse ethnic backgrounds, many communities face discriminatory hurdles others may never witness in their lifetimes. This notion is only amplified in the case of Muslim immigrant women, who can experience challenges springing from multiple biases.

"Gendered Islamophobia" affects them in ways that are often left out of the wider conversation about the immigrant experience.

Whereas Islamophobia is defined as an irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against Islam or people who practice Islam, gendered Islamophobia dissects the issue a step further by diving into more pointed signs of inequity. Muslim women may be victims of both sexism and Islamophobia, disadvantaging them as they navigate through schooling, employment and other public spaces.

But, ultimately, it could play a huge role in their overall sense of safety.

Muslim women, specifically those identifiable through religious headgear or prayer routines practiced in public, can be more prone to being victims due to their "visible" status. This has led to cases of assault as well as blatant displays of anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Greater scrutiny

Aima, a Pakistani Canadian Muslim woman who dons the niqab, has dealt with discrimination in both public spaces and at university as well. She would find herself consistently ignored in classrooms when she attempted to answer or ask a question during lectures; and when she was able to speak in class she found her answers were met with greater scrutiny, even when they were correct.

Other comments directed towards her included unwelcome discussions on forced marriage along with the fact that she’s been repeatedly told that she “[enjoys] so much freedom” for someone wearing a niqab. She adds that “my body will be policed and my choices scrutinized” for the expression of her faith and identity within today’s socio-political climate.

And she’s not alone, Shazlin, a Malaysian immigrant who once wore religious headgear, states she has had similar experiences, in addition to street harassment.

“Even talking about it now, it makes me angry that I was vulnerable and that I was made a victim in that moment when I know I have a lot more agency,” she says. She recalls one particular incident when on a walk with other visibly Muslim women in Toronto, a man verbally assaulted them and attempted to flick cigarette butts at them.

Regardless of what Islamophobes think, the comments and questions Muslim women face on an everyday basis eventually begin to take their toll. T.G*, who is an Ethiopian Muslim immigrant, has found that people often assume she lacks intellect, agency and knowledge of pop culture because of her hijab.

“I’m a walking encyclopedia on all the ethnicities, cultural expressions, and nuanced faith practices of the Muslim world,” T.G adds sarcastically. “We are expected to be the compassionate caretaker, teacher, and empathetic listener to all manners of ignorance about our faith. The brunt of the burden of flag-bearing for Islam falls on us – especially hijab-wearing Muslim women.”

Seeking a lower profile

But Muslim women who are more visibly ambiguous are not immune to similar experiences. As in the case of Safia*, an Arab-Canadian Muslim who does not wear any religious headgear such as the niqab or hijab. Yet, she constantly faces questions related to terrorist groups such as ISIS at her workplace.

One of her former coworkers even emailed her after the Orlando shooting with footage he had found of an Imam who seemed to have made homophobic comments. He wrote to her demanding, “We want answers. What is your community doing about this?"

No action was taken and the comments continued, despite the fact that Safia had made complaints to her immediate supervisor multiple times. In the absence of authoritative intervention, she weathers the harassment through therapy.

Sara*, a young professional of North African descent who doesn’t wear a hijab, has attempted to keep her religious affiliation from co-workers, out of fear that repercussions could affect future opportunities and her overall comfort at work.

Sara explains that her former employer would bring her news articles about honour killings in an attempt to make a correlation with her faith that would justify its relevance. The controversial articles forced her into a defensive position on a complex subject that she did not even agree with. Now she avoids questions about religion or her ethnicity to discourage unwelcome conversations.

These experiences only begin to highlight some of the situations Muslim women are faced with on a daily basis. The full impact it may have on their everyday interactions, ability to navigate public spaces or even in their careers remains immeasurable.

*names have been changed to protect the identity of these women

Manaal Farooqi is a writer and community organizer working on issues of violence against women and race. This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario" series. 

Published in Top Stories
Thursday, 26 October 2017 20:31

Quebec's Bill 62 is an Oppression

Commentary by: Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton, ON  

It's absurd to pass any law that is so obviously a violation of that constitution and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Quebec's National Assembly passed a bill that will require civil servants and members of the public seeking government services to have their faces uncovered. Known as Bill 62, this legislation will affect Muslim women who wear religious face coverings such as a Niqab or Burqa. 

To be sure, this issue of Muslim women covering their faces is one that elicits very strong reactions, both from a rights and freedoms perspective as well as from the perspective of those in our society who view this religious practice with great suspicion and mistrust.

The reality in Canada today is if a woman chooses to cover her face to observe her religious traditions, our constitution protects her right to do so. Frankly, it's absurd to pass any law that is so obviously a violation of that constitution and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms, leaving me to openly question the motives of Quebec's lawmakers.

I was talking with an older, Roman Catholic friend of mine who, during a conversation on this very topic, recalled how, as a child, whenever his family attended mass, his mother had to either wear a hat that covered the majority of her head or wear a lace veil called a mantilla to cover her head. This Christian, Roman Catholic practice has not been altogether abandoned, with female dignitaries visiting the pope often pictured wearing black clothes and a mantilla to this day. One still sees the odd older woman wearing one to mas, but no one rushes to admonish her for observing a practice that has faded from popular use as the conventions of worship in that faith have evolved over time.

I also have strong feelings about this issue that come from my own personal experience as a member of a visible minority who, from time to time, has been subjected to "strong reactions" from people over my turban, or on those occasions when I wear traditional clothes or carry a kirpan — a ceremonial dagger. I well remember the doomsday predictions of blood and carnage that were made when observant Sikhs were permitted to wear their Kirpan in schools, places of employment and even courts of law. These are ceremonial, symbolic items, and none of the hysterical predictions of knife-wielding Sikhs running amok ever came to pass. Nor will they.

Bill 62, which the Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée describes as a first in North America, is the culmination of a long conflict in Quebec around the province's religious minorities that I personally view as an extension of the province's vigorous protection of its French language and culture that makes them suspicious of those whose behavior or beliefs they perceive as a threat to their "Frenchness."

Meanwhile, those who are critical of Bill 62 are left with few details of how the law would be applied in a variety of circumstances, as the regulations have yet to be written, and municipalities such as Montreal that are blatantly opposed to this bill are demanding to be exempted from it. The law poses serious challenges, such as potentially pitting nurses and doctors — and their professional standards of practice that require they provide medical service to all patients who present themselves for care — against the law, which essentially forbids them to provide that care to a woman whose face is covered.

To many people who view these "foreign customs" through the lens of Western sensibilities, women choosing to cover their face or their body is at best a curious practice, or at worst a practice of dangerous and suspect motives hiding behind orthodox religious convention. Even within Islam, the practice of wearing the niqab can be controversial, with some Muslim scholars expressing the opinion that it is not required, while others assert their opinion that it is.

Mandatory, not mandatory — to those women who do wear the niqab or burqa it is clearly a requirement to them as they choose to interpret their religion and, ultimately, our constitution guarantees them that choice. If we can successfully deprive these women of that choice, then I believe we can deprive our citizens of just about any choice. This is not freedom, it is oppression. And it is not worthy of Canada.

Brampton-based Surjit Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer who has previously contributed to the Huffington Post, Toronto Sun and other publications. He is a member of the New Canadian Media Collective.

Published in Commentary
Monday, 23 October 2017 17:35

We Ignore Islamism at our Own Peril

Commentary by: Fred Maroun in Ottawa

Quebec recently passed a law banning face coverings for people delivering or receiving public services, which has re-ignited the debate across Canada on banning the burqa and niqab. 

Some people, such as Idil Issa, have accused Quebec’s politicians of going after Muslims because they are a minority and an easy target. Knowledge of Quebec history and culture, however, contradicts that accusation.

Quebec’s strong liberal values

Quebec is by far the most progressive province in Canada. Its two main parties are centrist (the Liberal Party of Quebec) and centre left (the Bloc Quebecois) whereas all other provinces have strong conservative parties. Quebec’s support for same-sex marriage is at 78%, possibly a world record. Quebec is a striving multicultural and diverse society.

Quebec was the only Canadian province to undergo a revolution (albeit a non-violent one, aptly named the Quiet Revolution) against religious and political conservatism.

There is a problem when women live in a society as liberal as Quebec and yet feel the need to comply with some of the most conservative and patriarchal religious rules ever invented. The fact that many Quebecers recognize this as a problem is not a symptom of intolerance.


When Quebec’s new law is discussed, the discussion invariably drifts towards the face covering of some Muslim women due to a version of Islam that is highly sexist and regressive, commonly referred to as Islamism. The concern of citizens is clearly not face coverings in the abstract but the religious radicalism that it implies.

I grew up in Lebanon at a time when Muslims were already the majority, and yet I never saw a woman with her face covered in public, even in Muslim neighborhoods. Several members of my family grew up in Egypt and make the same observation. With the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, however, the niqab and the burqa are now often seen in the streets of Cairo.

Raheel Raza, president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, wrote, “[I] never saw a niqab when I was growing up in Karachi, Pakistan. […] But in the 25 years I have called Canada home, I have seen a steady rise of Muslim women being strangled in the pernicious black tent that is passed off to naïve and guilt-ridden white, mainstream Canadians as an essential Islamic practice”.

Islamism is the opposite of social liberalism. Whereas liberalism aims to achieve for women equal rights and opportunities, Islamism considers women inferior and expects them to be subservient. The infiltration of Islamist values into Canadian society can only send chills into the backs of liberals.

A political hot potato

There are however no easy answers to fighting Islamism in Canada since we also value freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and personal choice. A ban on face coverings can be seen as a patriarchal imposition on women who may in theory choose to cover their faces. And if a husband prevents his wife from leaving the house with her face uncovered, a ban may transform her house into a jail.

Politicians try to avoid complex issues, and the growth of Islamism in liberal societies is undoubtedly a complex issue. Quebec politicians deserve credit for at least trying. Federal politicians refuse to even talk about it.

During the Conservative leadership campaign, Kellie Leitch attempted to bring forward a proposal to defend Canadian values by asking some tough questions of potential immigrants, but she faced strong opposition even within her party. After Andrew Scheer won the leadership, he left Leitch out of his shadow cabinet and gave another former candidate, Lisa Raitt, the position of deputy leader even though Leitch received almost twice as many votes as Raitt on the first ballot.

The federal Liberal Party and the NDP stay even farther away than their conservative counterparts from fighting Islamism. Almost all Liberal Members of Parliament (MPs), all NDP MPs, and a small number of Conservative MPs passed a vague motion condemning “Islamophobia” without defining its meaning, which could be interpreted as an attempt to muzzle legitimate criticism of Islamism.

Demagogues could fill the void

While I never saw burqas and niqabs in Lebanon, I see them now in Ottawa, far too often. Such occurrences are frequent reminders to Canadians that the issue of Islamism is not a faraway problem but a local one.

Canada has no leading politician resembling Donald Trump at the moment, but neither did the U.S. until two years ago. Then Trump barged into the political scene and raised issues that Americans were concerned about, such as Islamic terrorism, issues that other politicians were afraid to discuss.

There are likely more significant reasons why Trump was elected, but his willingness to be politically incorrect was undoubtedly one of the attributes that attracted voters to him. We see such a phenomenon occurring in parts of Europe as well, such as Germany where the extreme right has significantly weakened Chancellor Angela Merkel’s dominance. 

Politicians must find the courage to ask the politically incorrect questions, even when they do not have all the answers, so that intelligent solutions can emerge. If competent politicians ignore the challenge, demagogues may take advantage of the vacuum and propose ill-conceived populist ideas, which is the last thing we need.

Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin. He lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. He regularly blogs for The Times of Israel.

Published in Commentary

Commentary by Fred Maroun in Ottawa

“Immigration played a role in the Brexit campaign”, reported The Wall Street Journal.

Since there were only four percentage points between the winning side (to leave the European Union) and the losing side, it is likely that this factor was decisive.

Concerns over immigration have lately been widespread across the West. They seem to have played an important role in Donald Trump’s success in the Republican primaries, and seem to be fuelling the growing popularity of hard right-wing parties in Europe.

These concerns represent a mixed bag. There is undoubtedly some xenophobia, but there are also valid concerns about the risk that immigration places on our liberal values.

I emigrated from Lebanon in 1984. My main motivation was to live in a society that shared my liberal values, where women and gay people are treated more fairly, and where freedom of expression is guaranteed.

Today, I wonder if Canada and the West in general will continue to be a haven for future generations who are fleeing tyranny.

Sharing liberal values

Many of the newcomers do not share the West’s liberal values and do not easily change their outlook once they arrive. As reported in The Guardian in 2009, a Gallup Poll found that “None of the 500 British Muslims interviewed believed that homosexual acts were morally acceptable”.

France fared better in the same poll, and “35% of French Muslims found homosexual acts to be acceptable”.

Both Britain and France have since then legalized same-sex marriage, a step well beyond simply tolerating homosexuality. If Muslims were in the majority in Britain and France, it is unlikely that same-sex marriage would have become the law.

Canadian Muslim reformer, Raheel Raza, wrote in reference to the niqab, “In the 25 years I have called Canada home, I have seen a steady rise of Muslim women being strangled in the pernicious black tent”.

Another Canadian Muslim reformer, Farzana Hassan, wrote in her book “Unveiled”, “To live strictly according to sharia is the goal of conservative Muslim families in Canada. These are the values they are imparting to their young children”.

Equality of cultures

Interestingly, our liberal values often discourage us from fighting back against attacks on these very same values. The politicians who raise concerns about immigration tend to be demagogues, such as Trump and hard right-wingers such as France’s Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National.

If those politicians come to power, however, we cannot trust them to protect our liberal values. Demagogues pander to whatever political stand will get them elected, and hard right-wingers do not favour equal rights for minorities, a core principle of liberal values.

A claim often made by some liberals is that all cultures are equal and, therefore, we have no right to impose our culture on others. Even assuming that this claim is true, it only means that we should not forcefully go into other countries and impose our values there.

It does not take away our right to protect our own culture.

This is not a relationship of equals. It is a relationship of subservience.

For example, extreme conservative Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia expect visitors to comply with their cultural practices, such as women covering up in public, yet we allow visitors and even immigrants to our countries to disregard our values by wearing the niqab in public.

This is not a relationship of equals. It is a relationship of subservience.

Cowering on the sidelines

Moderate Western politicians must protect our liberal values by taking reasonable measures that respect human rights. For example, many Syrian refugees have been welcomed in the West and many more are expected to arrive.

Yet, as noted by Amnesty International, “Gulf countries including Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees”. The West should demand more participation from rich Muslim countries to ensure that refugees find homes that match their social values.

Another reasonable measure might be screening potential migrants based on their existing values and their ability to adapt to Western norms such as respect for LGBT rights and women’s rights. Once they have immigrated, there should be restrictions on some cultural practices.

As both Raheel Raza and another Canadian Muslim reformer Tarek Fatah have demanded, the niqab and the burka should be banned in public places.

Those of us who believe in liberal values have a right and even a duty to protect them. Centrist and left-wing politicians should be at the forefront of this battle rather than cowering on the sidelines, leaving the floor to illiberal politicians.

Defending our values is important not only for the West, but also to potential immigrants who wish to leave oppressive societies. Refusing to fight for our values is dangerous for us and a disservice to new immigrants.

Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. He writes at and

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to

Published in Commentary

by BJ Siekierski in Ottawa

Patrick Brown has already taken the Ontario Progressive Conservative party in a new direction since becoming its leader — now he’s encouraging his former federal colleagues to do the same as they try to reinvent themselves in the post-Harper era.

On Saturday afternoon, over 300 people filled a warehouse in Barrie, Ontario to hear from Brown and six current Conservative MPs, all of whom are at least exploring the possibility of running for the Conservative party leadership.

The event was called “Conservative Futures” and the majority of them were confident about the party’s prospects in 2019, convinced the Liberal government will defeat itself through a combination of bigger-than-promised deficits, unmet promises, and arrogance.

Fewer, however, were willing to really look critically at the past — and specifically the last election.

Patrick Brown was an exception.

"[I]f we do not defend minority communities of every religion, of every race, then every other cultural group will say: are we next?”

“(It’s) important to have this pause and understand where mistakes have been made so we can go into the future with a sense of conviction that we’re on the right path. My sense, showing up to probably about 1,000 cultural events in the last year in the GTA, is that if we do not defend minority communities of every religion, of every race, then every other cultural group will say: are we next?” he told the crowd.

“I think we lost our way when we did not say that unequivocally. I think there were mistakes made, and I think we have to learn from that.”

Reconnecting with ethnocultural communities

As both his and Jason Kenney’s persistent outreach to different ethnic communities have proved, Brown added, many ethnic minorities share Conservative values. But the party went “too far” with its niqab rhetoric during the federal election campaign.

They alienated voters they’d spent years bringing into the Conservative tent.

It was a blunt assessment that only Conservative MP Michael Chong would come close to matching on Saturday.

“I think it’s clear in the last election we lost the ethnocultural communities in this country, and we need to regain their trust.”

“I think it’s clear in the last election we lost the ethnocultural communities in this country, and we need to regain their trust,” Chong said.

He then recounted the struggles his father faced as a Chinese immigrant to the country in the 1950s, only four years after the repeal of the Chinese exclusion act. And the struggles he faced as a “mixed-race kid” growing up in rural Ontario in the 1970s.

“I tell you these stories because we need to reconnect with ethnocultural communities. We need to tell them that we understand the challenges of coming to a new country, often with a foreign language. We need to tell them that we understand the barriers that they face; that we understand their fears, hopes, and aspirations; that we understand the plight of Syrian refugees coming to this country, scared, facing an environment unknown,” he said.

"We need to tell them that we understand the challenges of coming to a new country, often with a foreign language."

Closer to turning the page

Though Chong acknowledged the mistakes, he didn’t mention the niqab specifically. Nor did he mention the barbaric cultural practices tip line Conservative candidates Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander introduced in the final weeks of the last campaign, and which was met with widespread scorn and derision.

Leitch, who spoke of the need for tolerance on Saturday, didn’t touch on it either.

“We know as Conservatives that we have to make sure that every Canadian is treated fairly and equally,” she said.

“We are the party where families of all religious backgrounds, of all ethnic backgrounds, have a home. As Patrick was mentioning, Jason Kenney has done outstanding work in reaching out to so many different groups across this country. He did a remarkable job. And he had many of us join him in doing that.”

A few weeks ago at the Manning Centre Conference in Ottawa, it was clear Conservatives were still bothered by the divisive identity politics that featured so prominently in the last campaign.

On Saturday in Barrie, five months to the day Canadians replaced a Conservative majority with a Liberal one, they came a bit closer to turning the page.

But they didn’t get all the way there.

“The reality is, in four years there will be people looking for change,” Brown said. “And if the Conservative Party has the courage to talk in a positive fashion…I believe there’s going to be a lot more Conservative MPs, and one of the people running for this Conservative leadership will be the prime minister of Canada.”

Republished in partnership with

Published in Politics
Monday, 14 March 2016 13:08

Refugee Sponsors Take Leaps of Faith

by Tazeen Inam in Toronto 

Religion plays a major role in the lives of many refugees, making it an important consideration for religious-based aid groups sponsoring those of other faiths. 

Paul Bramadat from the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria, made this point while leading the forum on “Refugees and Religion: Push, Pull and the Politics of Crisis” at the 18th National Metropolis Conference in Toronto earlier this month. 

“We know that Anglican United Church [of Canada] and Catholic church groups are heavily responsible for lots of immigrant and refugee settlement activities in the last many decades,” Bramadat said. 

Suzanne Rumsey of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, representing the Anglican Church of Canada, said, “In our ways of working, we are an Anglican way of sponsoring the needs of the world, not the needs of Anglicans of the world.” 

“Our mandate is to respond to refugees based on need, not on faith or religion,” she added. 

An integral part of faith groups 

One of the founding members of Lifeline Syria, Naomi Alboim, a professor at Queen’s University, applauded the private sponsorship approach by various faith communities. 

“The Syrian refugee movement has really revitalized the whole sponsorship movement."

“The Syrian refugee movement has really revitalized the whole sponsorship movement, I hope forever,” she said. 

Alboim found refuge in Canada with her parents - her mother a Jewish survivor of the Second World War. 

Thinking back to 1979 when private sponsorship kicked off in Canada, Alboim said that a number of ethno-specific and religious-specific groups were set up particularly to sponsor refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Many Jewish groups came forward to sponsor refugees from Indochina.

Sharing her experience of approaching Jewish faith groups to sponsor Syrians, Alboim said that it was a “brave” thing to do as there had been discussions in the Jewish community about whether it would be appropriate to sponsor Muslims or not.

She applauds the immediate cooperation from the Jewish community, and also her particular synagogue, and said that they are sponsoring refugees not as human beings only, but also as Jewish people. 

“It’s really an opportunity for us as a community to put our values into practice, which is repairing the world as an integral part of our faith.” 

There are 35 groups among Canada’s Jewish community working together to sponsor Syrian refugees. 

Before approaching the Toronto Board of Rabbis, Alboim said she wanted to tackle concerns about Muslim refugees being sponsored by Jewish groups. 

“I [didn't] want to reach out to my community and get rebuffed,” she said. “Now a family of five has arrived and another is under process.” 

Over-simplifying identities of refugees 

Meanwhile, some secular groups have also joined sponsorship efforts, including the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria. 

The group found that some are not comfortable sponsoring refugees through faith-based organizations. 

“There is this assumption that they are all the same."

“We felt that there was some space for people who wanted to go through a different route,” said Sabine Lehr, representing the group at the forum. 

Lehr spoke about the challenge of over-simplifying the identity of incoming refugees as Muslims. 

“There is this assumption that they are all the same, but they all have tribal affiliation. They have potentially different political perspectives, particularly complex, given the nature of conflicts they are facing.” 

While talking about a large mosque in Victoria, she said that it’s an assumption that all refugees coming in as Muslims will attend the mosque, whether or not they come from a different faction.

Lehr expresses her concern that this dimension is often brushed aside. 

“We’ll see where this all leads in the coming months,” she added. 

Religion need not be a private matter 

There are other challenges related to religious issues that merit consideration, added Lehr. 

[T]he challenge he sees is if a refugee of Muslim faith gets involved in crime, Canadians will immediately grow frightened ...

In her experience, some people were concerned about certain expressions of culture or religion – in particular the wearing of niqab. 

“I did get a question in one of my conversations with a potential sponsor,” she recalled. “It was couched in terms of, ‘You know I really have a problem with the niqab because we have a problem if we can’t see somebody’s face.’ It wasn’t really couched in religious terms; it was couched in the terms that I have a problem in interacting with a person face-to-face.” 

Bramadat said despite these issues, religion is not a barrier to sponsoring refugees in Canada, the way it is in Europe. 

However, the challenge he sees is if a refugee of Muslim faith gets involved in crime, Canadians will immediately grow frightened, as a result of Islamophobia. 

“My fear is that as soon as somebody does some bad things, what people see is a Muslim rather than see it’s a guy who made a wrong choice and who is in crisis.” 

Bramadat suggested that the solution is to discuss religion openly. 

“I think we have to develop the capacity and bravery to have difficult conversations and should not treat religion as a private matter.”

Editor's Note: This report has been updated from a previous version. Alboim was not a survivor of the Second World War, her mother was; as well in 1979, not 1978, when private sponsorship kicked off the focus was on groups from Indochina, not of Jewish faith. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to

Published in Top Stories

by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa 

Inside the main atrium of Carleton University, four women wearing hijabs (a head covering worn by some Muslim women) set up tables and stands with mounted posters and banners in one of the busiest areas on campus. The most distinct writing on the posters and banners reads #JeSuisHijabi. 

They are on their feet attending to people, mostly students, who come up to them to inquire about their mission. Among the women is Anna Ahmad, a government worker who has taken time off from her job to volunteer. 

“This is who we are and we can be what we want to be, wearing the hijab,” she says. 

Ahmad is among hundreds of Ahmadiyya Muslim women across Canada participating in a nationwide awareness campaign dubbed #JeSuisHijabi to explain the importance of the hijab and defuse any stereotypes related to it. 

“This is who we are and we can be what we want to be, wearing the hijab.”

Niqab in the last campaign 

In the recent federal election, the wearing of and proposed ban of the niqab (a veil worn by some Muslim women that covers the entire head and face except the eyes) became a point of political debate. 

The Conservatives insisted they were going to appeal a court decision that allows the wearing of the niqab while taking the citizenship oath, and that they would consider a ban on public servants wearing the niqab. 

However, the newly elected Liberal government recently decided not to appeal a Supreme Court decision to allow the wearing of the niqab during citizenship oath taking ceremonies. 

Imtiaz Ahmed, imam at the Ahmadiyya mosque in Cumberland, Ottawa says of the whole niqab debate, “It’s history now.” 

[T]he #JeSuisHijabi campaign challenges a widespread portrayal of Muslim women as being inferior to men.

He commends the Liberal government for discontinuing the case. Ahmed says allowing the niqab debate into the campaign was needless and hopes this does not happen again. 

Eesha Affan, one of the volunteers for the #JeSuisHijabi campaign, says the decision to wear a hijab or a niqab is to show people who they are as Muslim women. 

“It’s our own decision and we want to protect our modesty,” she explains. 

Equality in Islam 

Ahmad says the #JeSuisHijabi campaign challenges a widespread portrayal of Muslim women as being inferior to men. 

“This campaign is to create awareness that I am equal to a man, Islam allows me that equality,” she says. 

She says the campaign has received some attention especially with the hashtag #JeSuisHijabi on Twitter and Facebook. 

“Doing that campaign is creating that awareness of equality.” 

The negative portrayal of women in Islam is more culturally related.

Ahmed says this campaign comes at the right time to correct the misconception of how women are treated in Islam. He says Islam respects women and they are not forced to wear the hijab as it is always misconstrued. 

The negative portrayal of women in Islam is more culturally related, he adds. 

“Islam is not restricted to women in one country. People accept Islam and they have different cultures and different backgrounds and women are suppressed in some of the cultures,” Ahmed says. “It is the cultures that are to be blamed and not Islam.” 

Attacks on Muslim Women 

Following the shootings in Paris, there have been increases in attacks on Muslims in Canada. 

A mosque was set ablaze in Peterborough and a Muslim woman was robbed and attacked in Toronto. 

“We’re trying to tell people that we are a very peaceful community and we want to tell people that what ISIS and other terrorist groups are doing is not the real Islam,” Affan says. 

She says it is upsetting to hear of attacks on Muslim women and that ISIS is pushing fear into people’s hearts. 

“When someone feels fear, they do irrational things,” Affan says. “So we’re trying to take away that fear; love is so much [more] powerful than hate or fear will ever be and that’s what we’re trying to put in people’s hearts.” 

Ahmad emphasizes people need to be better informed. That is why the campaign’s purpose is to show people Islam is a peaceful religion. 

Ahmed says attacks on Muslim women especially are very unfortunate. 

“Just as those who perpetrate nefarious activities in the name of Islam don’t represent Islamic values, same thing with those who attack Muslims, they don’t represent Islamic values,” he says. 

It is, however, comforting to know that the majority of Canadians have been condemning these actions, he points out. Authorities are also on the lookout for people who attack Muslims. A Quebec man was arrested three weeks ago for threatening to kill a Muslim every week in a YouTube video. 

Affan and Ahmed say the constitution of Canada protects them just as it protects everyone. They want to be treated like any other citizen and not looked at suspiciously. 

For the next two weeks, while they campaign in three universities as well as major shopping malls in Ottawa, they have the huge task of swaying a lot of negative stereotypes. 

But even when the campaigning ends, they will still be in their hijabs and saying, #JeSuisHijabi. 

As Ahmad states, “It’s a campaign within ourselves, it’s not a campaign we’ll run for two weeks, and it’s an awareness I’ll have for life.”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to

Published in Top Stories
Wednesday, 02 December 2015 11:10

Integration Not Sole Responsibility of Newcomers

by Andrew Griffith in Ottawa

Robin Higham’s What Would You Say? ... as guest speaker at the next Canadian citizenship ceremony is an anecdote-based approach to understanding the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

His latest book builds upon his thoughts on integration, first expressed in his earlier work, Who Do We Think We Are, which focused on reasonable accommodation.

As before, Higham uses archetype-characters – both Canadian-born and immigrants – to express a range of perspectives, ranging from ‘old-stock’ (indigenous, francophone, anglophone) to ‘new-stock’ (East European, Latin American, Indo- and Muslim) Canadians through a conversation about the responsibilities of integration and citizenship.

While this is an effective technique to outline some of the issues involved and capture different perspectives, it has a number of weaknesses, starting with how the discussion is framed.

Complexities of integration and accommodation

Higham’s underlying bias and ideology are clear.

His choice of Gilles Paquet’s apocalyptic frame — political correctness, reluctance to confront, culture of entitlement and unreasonable accommodation — and how these are interpreted, reflect a distinctly conservative perspective, focused on social cohesion more than inclusion.

But this frame is more asserted than demonstrated through evidence, along with his underlying premise that integration is the responsibility of the newcomer. His characters all largely assert this, with the anecdotes selected to buttress his argument.

Integration is not one-way, but multi-dimensional.

In reality, there is a more complex dynamic of integration and accommodation. Integration is not one-way, but multi-dimensional. Debates over what kinds of accommodation are reasonable and what are not illustrate this.

There is an abundance of evidence from Statistics Canada, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and other international organizations that indicate Canada is remarkably successful overall compared to other countries in building an integrated society that recognizes the diversity of different groups.

It is a society most Canadians are comfortable with.

A large part of this success reflects precisely our ability to be flexible and accommodate difference, allowing integration to take place over time, but within the overall Canadian constitutional and legal framework.

A large part of this success reflects precisely our ability to be flexible and accommodate difference.

Considering old and new Canadians alike

Anecdotal evidence suggests that ‘political correctness’ and a ‘reluctance to confront’ can be seen as civility and that the alternative, as seen in the recent Canadian election (e.g., the wedge politics of the niqab), the USA (e.g., the Republican primary) and Europe is not helpful to integration or belonging.

This is not to say that Canada is without challenges, whether it be with respect to finding the right balance between integration and accommodation, or the declining rate of citizenship.

But given this, where does Higham end up on citizenship rights and responsibilities for newcomers?

1. Be mindful of what wasn’t working when you left home – emigrated – and also remember why you chose to come to Canada.

2. Exercise civility even towards the ‘others’ in your community. You should also find that there are many fewer ‘others’ around you once you join the ‘otherness community.’

3. We need your engagement and investment in our democratic processes and institutions. They are our default complaint-management mechanism.

4. Strive for low maintenance citizen status, especially, but not only, with respect to government and community-funded social support programs.

5. Build trust amongst citizens, all citizens. Always talk to strangers.

6. Be sensitive to those obvious 'un-Canadian' transgressions. Know what kinds of things it is best to avoid.

7. At home, be alert to your responsibility to respect and protect each of your family members’ rights. Monitor and coach the youngsters in your entourage.

8. Accept that there are limits to the capacity of society to accommodate new expressions of values, beliefs and traditions. Expect to have to make adjustments in order to prosper.

To Higham’s credit, these are expressed with respect, modelling how one can overcome the ‘reluctance to confront’ in a manner that encourages dialogue, rather than shutting it down. But it does beg the question: how would one construct such a list that applies to both old and new Canadians?

Be trustful of others and forgiving of misunderstandings.

My take, drawing on Higham’s list, suggests that this is not difficult:

1. Be mindful of what wasn’t working when you or your ancestors left the country of origin and chose to come to Canada.

2. Exercise civility towards all, whether new or old Canadians, whether from one’s ethno-cultural, racial or religious group or not, whether male, female or transgender, whether gay or straight, etc.

3. Engage and participate actively in wider Canadian political life and debates, not just ones of immediate interest to you.

4. Used our social safety net when needed, do not abuse.

5. Be trustful of others and forgiving of misunderstandings.

6. Be understanding of others and their sensitivities, whether cultural, religious or other. Accommodate where feasible and treat accommodation requests with respect.

7. Be mindful of one’s biases and prejudices before acting or opining.

8. Apply these in the home, workplace and wider society.

I encourage those interested in citizenship and multiculturalism issues to read Higham’s book for his modelling of respectful dialogue. But I would also encourage all to consider how to frame such discussions in a manner that includes old and new Canadians alike, and offer my list above to continue the conversation.

Andrew Griffith is the author of Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote and Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism and is a regular media commentator and blogger (Multiculturalism Meanderings). He is the former Director General for Citizenship and Multiculturalism. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to

Published in Books

By Swati Sharan

Since the Paris attacks last week, there’s been a case of arson in the Peterborough Mosque, damage to Cold Lake Mosque and to the Ram Dham temple in Kitchener. Near one of

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Published in Commentary

by Janice Dickson in Ottawa

Fulfilling a promise made during the election campaign, the Trudeau government said today it plans to drop the federal government’s appeal in the case of the Canadian woman, Zunera Ishaq, who fought to wear a niqab during her citizenship ceremony.

In a joint statement, Immigration Minister John McCallum and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said: “On November 16, 2015, the Attorney General of Canada notified the Supreme Court of Canada that it has discontinued its application for leave to appeal in the case of Minister of Citizenship and Immigration v. Ishaq.

“Canadians have their main concerns beings reflected in the last federal elections results, certainly the niqab issue is not the one.”

“The Federal Court of Canada found that the policy requiring women who wear the niqab to unveil themselves to take the Oath of Citizenship is unlawful on administrative law grounds, and the Federal Court of Appeal upheld this ruling. The government respects the decision of both courts and will not seek further appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

“Canada’s diversity is among its greatest strengths, and today we have ensured that successful citizenship candidates continue to be included in the Canadian family. We are a strong and united country because of, not in spite of, our differences.”

Samer Majzoub, the president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, said he believes the Liberal government’s decision is the “right direction.”

“Canadians have their main concerns beings reflected in the last federal elections results, certainly the niqab issue is not the one,” he said.

The controversial debate about whether a woman should be permitted to wear a niqab during citizenship ceremonies was a failed attempt to sway voters, he said.

“We believe and hope that any divisive debate that leads to friction amongst Canadians will be set aside for [a] long period and never used for political or special interests,” he said.

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