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What a Hijab-Wearing Muslim Québecoise Has to Say to Pauline Marois

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Dear Mme. Marois,

I have a bone to pick with you. You may not know me, but I know you. I write to you as a hijab wearing Muslim Québecoise. I write to you woman to woman.

You see, I'm writing to you about my Quebec. My Quebec, in which I was born and raised. The home my parents chose for themselves some 40 odd years ago when they migrated from Germany. The only home I have known my entire life with the exception of the five or so years I lived in Ontario. The home I yearned for and missed like a good cheese curd misses warm fries.

You see, I grew up in the middle upper class, primarily anglophone community of West Island Montreal. I was one of a handful of coloured children in my highschool of almost 500. I studied hard, worked part time jobs, and continued my post secondary education in this beautiful province.

I played street hockey as a child, watched the local baseball games, and went ice skating in the winters. Like most other kids my age, before the Internet, I'd bike to the local dep (dépanneur) and buy candy with my friends. You see, growing up in my Québec, the colour of my skin or the way I dressed didn't matter much. It never made headlines or the 6 o'clock news.

In cégep in the early 2000's I made a decision to express my individuality and embrace my faith. Much like my peers who chose to grow mohawks, wear ripped pants, and about nineteen different earrings, I too chose a form of self expression. After all, if it was one thing I knew for sure, growing up in my Québec, it was that self expression is a thing to be embraced.

So against my family's wishes at the time, I put on the hijab (headscarf) in the winter of 2000. Despite alienation from certain family members and members of my own Pakistani community, I put it on. And I had the support of so many of my Québecois friends who, like me, were raised in an era where self expression is to be waved high into the air with the same pride as the fleur de lys on its beautiful blue background. I wore the hijab as a symbol of empowerment, of self expression, and of pride. I fought my family, and I wore it. I embraced the many questions my peers in cégep had. I responded to their many queries about whether my father had forced me to wear it, or whether I had been married off over the Christmas vacation. I responded that I wore it as a symbol of my faith, my values, and my self-expression. That, they understood. Like me, and pretty much most other teenage North American adolescents, they understood the importance of self expression.

I wore it, this hijab of mine, through the years. Through college and on to university. Through different jobs, marriage, and the migration of provinces. I wore it with pride, a pride similar to that I feel for my place of birth.

I once had an unfortunate experience when living in Ontario of a disgruntled old man who, when I complained it was nippy out, told me to go back to where I came from. To that I smiled and responded, "Ah, right. Montreal."

You see, Mme. Marois I now have children of my own. My husband and I are choosing to educate our children in 85% French curriculum. It is our choice. You see, we are not being forced to. I have the "eligibility certificate." Yes, to all my non-Québec readers, we are required by our province to have a certificate authenticating that our children are entitled to an English education. Despite having this, we chose to send our children to a school in which they receive the bulk of their education in French. Nous sommes fiers!

All these years I boasted about my beautiful Québec. My home and native province. Despite the ludicrous nature of this proposed charter of values, I refuse to be ashamed of my Quebec. You see, somewhere along the years it became excusable to not discuss the staggering debt of our province, the moon-like roads, the ingrained corruption that has permeated most levels of government, the future of our healthcare system. Instead you have opted for us to focus on a piece of cloth and other religious symbols.

A few years ago the educational system in Quebec changed; it went from religious to secular. While it didn't affect me directly, I respected the switch and saw little need for an uproar. We went from learning biblical stories like when I was young to a secular system.

I honour and practice my religion on my own time, in my own way, and contrary to what you may fear, I do not shove it down the throats of those around me. As any woman can tell you, I like to accessorize and choose my scarves to match my outfits, as you might understand. My hijab is not only a religious symbol, for me, it is a form of self expression.

I was driving and listening to the radio this afternoon, when I heard a commentary about the proposed charter of values: "C'est pour les autres [It is for others]." I was tempted to pull the car over because I thought I was mistaken. If this law is to guard us against others then please explain to me what exactly happens to the thousands like me? The ones who are not "les autres" but "les nôtres [ours]." The ones who were born and raised in this beautiful province, the eaters of poutine and joueurs d'hockey who yes, by the way, also drape a piece of cloth over their heads or wear a turban, or a kippah, or a star around their necks.

Clearly you have understood the importance of the large cross atop Mont Royal or of the cross in the legislature. So too, I implore you to understand we are entitled to our own forms of self expression. For my Jewish friends who choose to wear the kippah, that is their right, their freedom, and their decision. For my Sikh friends, it is the turban. And for me, my hijab is my decision.

When will we stop pretending this proposed charter of values is anything more than a bigoted attempt to stifle self expression and freedom of attire? If the nineteen earrings and purplish blue hair of my neighbour are an allowable form of self expression than why not a piece of fabric atop my head?

It is through dialogue and freedom of expression that communities flourish. Educating our citizens helps to empower our own culture, not stomping upon the fabric of others. Enforcing the removal of one person's article of clothing is removing their freedom of expression and creating an environment of hostility and ignorance. To do so is to take one giant leap backwards for mankind; and that is not what I will accept for my Quebec.

Signed,

A hijab-clad fiercely proud Québecoise Muslim woman

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