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Talking head coverings at the Muslim-Jewish Dialogue
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 10 juin 2010
Photo Stephanie Watt
Several participants stayed after the meeting to chat. (Front row) Moin Ghauri (Back row, from left to right) Ira Robinson, Professor of Judaic Studies at Concordia University, Edward Wolkove, co-founder of the MJD, Bashir Hussain, co-founder of the MJD, Bernard Tonchin, Shaikh Farhad Ali and Sarah Wolkove.

Imam Moin Ghauri, formerly with the Islamic Centre of Quebec in Ville Saint-Laurent, spoke about the niqab at the May 25 meeting of the Muslim-Jewish Dialogue (MJD) at the Cummings Building in Snowdon. His message: Muslim women must cover their bodies, hair and faces except when state legislation, employment and studies require otherwise. The Koran, he noted, allows for these exceptions.

“[When] the law requires you to show your face, then, in that case, you are allowed to do that. According to Islam…you do not stand up against the country’s laws where you are. It is on their conscience.” The imam linked this Koranic permission to Bill 94. If Quebec bans the niqab in certain places then Muslim women will have to remove it, he argued.

Diversity in Islamic interpretation and practice
Shaheen Ashraf, a Muslim and volunteer with the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, was the first to react to Ghauri’s talk. She argued that there is not a hegemonic consensus among Islamic scholars on modesty, its practice and to whom falls its responsibility.

Ashraf told the dozen people around the table that she only began wearing the hijab (head scarf) after her pilgrimage to Mecca. To Ghauri and others, she asked: “So why is all this big issue about women’s clothing being made? I think it’s a big joke that all the time the men or the imams or the sheikhs are concerned about how women are dressed and their behaviour and their attitude. I think we are all responsible for ourselves and the Koran says so: that we are each answerable to God.”

Ira Robinson, professor of Judaic Studies at Concordia University, questioned the idea that one person can speak for a singular Muslim community. In the Concordia district, he noted, women wear hijabs, niqabs and burqas. This, he argued, shows that there are multiple ways of practicing Islam and of covering oneself. Freedom of religion, he added, makes the subject of a ban on the burqa all the more complicated.

Echoing mainstream discourse on Muslim women, Cote St. Luc resident Bernard Tonchin argued that a covered woman is a public security risk. “She could be a bank robber,” he suggested. When Ashraf insisted that Muslim women– veiled, covered or not – have rights, Tonchin replied: “The woman, a man, everybody has a right … but for a woman to cover her face is wrong. It’s definitely wrong … all the way!”

In an interview with Les Actualités, Ghauri explained that niqabs and other body coverings are also ways of ordering relationships among members of the opposite sex. These cloaks help Muslim women and men “purify their hearts.”

Theology and politics
Edward Wolkove, who founded the MJD with Bashir Hussain in 1998, described the MJD as informal gatherings where Muslim and Jewish communities “can get to know each other better.” The meetings– held at the Quebec chapter of the Canadian Jewish Congress– bring together religious scholars, rabbis, imams and Jewish and Muslim lay people to discuss aspects of each religion from theological perspectives.

[Stephanie Watt]

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