By Sheema Khan
Feb, 25 2015
Assalaamu alaikum. I pray that you and your family are doing well.
Congratulations on your latest award – a Grammy for best children’s album I am Malala. Earler this month you placed second (behind Angelina Jolie) in a U.K. poll of the the most-admired women in the world.
You continue to inspire with your humility and courage. You provide a voice for those who have been deemed voiceless. Most recently, you criticized the Nigerian government and world leaders for not doing enough to free hundreds of school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. In December, you and your family reached out with compassion to survivors of the horrific massacre of school children and teachers in Peshawar. Last fall, after winning the Nobel Peace Prize with Kailash Satyarthi, you were awarded the World’s Children Prize, which you immediately donated in full toward reconstruction of a UN school in Gaza that had been destroyed last summer.
The importance of education has always been at the forefront of your efforts. For you know that education is the gateway towards empowerment, and most importantly, towards knowledge of our shared humanity. Even the humanity of those who would commit harm. Who can forget when you left Jon Stewart speechless in 2013, with these memorable words: “I thought: ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education … I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’”
Like many the world over, Canadians are inspired by your example. We are honoured that you received honorary citizenship, joining Nelson Mandela, Raoul Wallenberg, the Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi and the Aga Khan.
We had looked forward to that ceremony last Oct. 22, but, as fate would have it, our capital was attacked by a lone gunman who killed unarmed Corporal Nathan Cirillo, before storming our seat of democracy, the Parliament buildings. A few days before, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was murdered by an extremist.
Canadians are a calm lot, even in the face of trying circumstances. On Oct. 22, we saw exemplary displays of heroism. Passersby tried to save the life of Corp. Cirillo, and law enforcement officials contained the gunman. We came together in grief across this land, and stood up to bigots who lashed out against Muslims.
Oddly enough, the citizenship ceremony that awaits you here has become a political flashpoint. As in the U.K., the niqab has become the object of much scorn, and, consequentially, fodder for those who wish to score cheap political points. A few years ago, former citizenship minister Jason Kenney banned the niqab at citizenship ceremonies. Last fall, Zunera Ishaq, a Pakistani immigrant and mother of three, was the first casualty of Mr. Kenny’s decree. She refused to remove her niqab while swearing the oath at the ceremony. A few weeks ago, a federal court agreed with Ms. Zunera. However, our Prime Minister, who is campaigning for re-election, said that it was “offensive” to hide one’s face while joining “the Canadian family”. These comments were made in Quebec, where there is strong opposition to the niqab and increasing Islamophobic sentiment. Our Prime Minister chose to pander to these fears.
Citizenship Minister Chris Alexander went further, and tweeted “niqab, hejab, burqa, wedding veil – face coverings have no place in cit oath-taking”. He explained that a hijab can be used to cover the face.
Regarding the Burqa issue in the U.K., you have told The Guardian: “I believe it's a woman’s right to decide what she wants to wear and if a woman can go to the beach and wear nothing, then why can't she also wear everything?”
Please Malala, ask Mr. Alexander if you will be required to remove your head-cover at your ceremony. And ask Mr. Harper and Mr. Alexander why Ms. Zunera should remove her niqab. Your carry great moral authority and your words will assist Muslim women who are being used as cheap political fodder. We know that you will stand by your principles.