Muslim Women in Canada
Their Role and Status as Revealed
in the Hijab Controversy
In Canada, both within the Muslim community and between Muslims and the rest of society, the role and status of Muslim women is being debated. The growth of the Muslim population in the last two decades and continued immigration have brought a heightened sense of their “minority status” among Muslims, and raised many questions concerning religious values and expression. Muslims, particularly women, want to keep their religious identity, while adopting the other aspects of the host culture such as language, educational system, employment patterns, and civic life. For them integration means acceptance by the larger Canadian society of their separate identity, including their distinctive religious practices, patterns of family relationship, and mother tongues.
In Canada, however, ideas of assimilation, absorption, and integration are part of the ideology of the dominant group. Any community which remains unabsorbed, or unassimilated, is usually considered to be upsetting the equation of social relations in the society. The phenomenon itself is not novel, but what interests us here is the response of Muslims, especially of Muslim women, to this attitude. This lies at the center of the debate.
Women of color in general, but especially those who are at the same time Muslim, have faced difficulties with the attitude of the majority population. The religious expressions and values of Muslim women due to differences in outlook and behavior are seen by the majority community to be alien. Problems with the female dress code, the hijab, have arisen all across Canada.