Zonaira Ishaq opens up about her experience as a Niqab wearing Muslim Women here in Canada and her fight to appeal a policy preventing Muslim Women from wearing the Niqab during their citizenship oath-taking ceremony.
Ishaq is a wife and mother to five children, she came to Canada in 2008. Ishaq started wearing the Niqab back when she was in Pakistan. Ishaaq said, “it was a personal decision.” Her inspiration was her English teacher and her sister.
Ishaq didn’t struggle with wearing her Niqab here in Canada until 2011. When the former minister of immigration Jason Kenny created a policy that Muslim Women couldn’t wear the Niqab during their citizenship oath-taking ceremony. Audrey Macklin Professor of Law at the University of Toronto believes the policy had two contradictory ideas that women wearing the Niqab were victims of gender oppression. Macklin said, “if that was the case denying them citizenship would make them more vulnerable because non-citizens experience abuse, exploitations of varying sorts compared to citizens.” Another contradiction Macklin believes is that women are forced to wear the Niqab. She said, “it was a kind of oppression compulsion, so the idea that they should be rescued from oppression by denying them citizenship.” When the policy was enforced Ishaaq was not a Canadian Citizen and was trying to find out how she could get her Citizenship. Ishaq said, “I found out about the policy in 2011 and was trying to find out how I would face Citizenship.” Ishaq felt that she could receive accommodations since she has been accommodated in places like the airport. Ishaq said “people have accommodated me and said if you want to show your face privately we can do that. She was given the option that instead of fighting the policy she could have elected certain accommodations such as sitting in the back-row but would still need to remove her niqab. Ishaq wasn’t comfortable with accommodations that were provided so she consulted a lawyer at Waldman and Associates. Nassem Mithoowani an Associate Lawyer at Waldman and Associates felt the policy was unfair and targeted a particular group. She said, “in this case, they were targeting a particular population unfairly that’s when we felt we needed to step in.” Ishaq went to Federal court to appeal the ban. Going into the Case Ishaq was concerned about media involvement. She said, “I didn’t want to be in the spotlight.” Ishaq ‘s lawyers on the other hand were concerned about the impact that case would have on the Muslim community. Mithoowani said, “When you are representing a misunderstood or vulnerable community, there are always concerns that it could have negative impacts on that community.” Ishaq’s lawyers argued that the policy violated The Charter of Rights on the bases of freedom of religion, that the Minister didn’t go through the legislature to make the policy a law and tried to bypass that by making the Niqab ban a mandatory policy and finally that it was dissimilatory towards Muslim Women.
The courts ruled against the Niqab Ban on Sept 16, 2015, on the bases that, the Minister didn’t go through the legislature to make the policy a law and took her Citizenship oath on Oct 10, 2015. At that time Ishaq felt that she made her right decision to appeal the policy. She said, “I felt that I was right going to court because the policy was not on the right path.” Today Ishaq enjoys the benefits of being a Canadian Citizen.