POLITICS

Niqab-Wearing Montreal Woman Criticizes Issue's Dominance In Election Campaign

10/02/2015 10:32 EDT | Updated 10/02/2016 05:12 EDT
Warda Naili says she has been yelled at in the street, hit in the head with a beer bottle and nearly struck by a car whose driver deliberately sped toward her.

Even her husband wishes she wouldn't wear one.

Yet the 32-year-old Montreal-born Muslim convert says she has no plans to take off the niqab she has been wearing in public since 2011.

"We have one life to live," Naili says. "I want to live it by my conscience, not by what people can think of me."

With debate over the niqab face-covering looming large in the federal election campaign, Naili sat down with CBC Montreal Daybreak host Mike Finnerty on Friday in an exclusive interview.

In addition to sharing her own experience, she expressed her frustration over how the issue is dominating the campaign in Quebec.

"They know that the subject touches the heart of people because they are scared," she said.

"It's a big matter for nothing," she added, pointing out that the Conservative government's position on niqabs had prevented just two women from taking the citizenship oath.

'He accepts it but says it's my choice'

Naili converted to Islam in 2003, after first learning about it through Muslim friends.

"I have to say I had many problems in the past," Naili said in English, her second language.  

"I was not knowing myself enough to be self-confident. Islam helped me to find myself and to be proud of me and to be strong."

She decided to wear the niqab four years ago and stressed it was entirely her own choice.

"I learned that the Prophet Muhammad's wives and first believers were hiding their face," she said.

Her husband, who is from Algeria, would rather she didn't wear the niqab.

"He accepts it but says it's my choice," Naili said.

"He thinks it would be easier because he sees how people can be mad at me, and he worries about my security."

Naili said she gets a lot of stares on the streets, and sometimes people tell her to "go back to her country," even though she grew up in Montreal's east end.

She estimates there are between 50 and 60 Muslim women wearing the niqab in Montreal.

"When they see us, it's a shock. I understand that," she said.

More than once, drivers have revved their car engines and sped up while she was crossing the street.

"One time, [the driver] lost the control, and the car came very close to me. I was very lucky he didn't hit me," she said.

"Once I was in a metro station, and I received a bottle of beer to the head."

'More important matters'

Naili says she's been discouraged by the focus on the niqab during the election.

"It's a lot of time and energy," she said.

"We have so much more important matters to take care of."

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