Warda Naili grew up in Montreal, Canada, but ever since 2011, when she started to wear a veil that covers her face, she’s endured almost daily harassment.
“Every time I go out, someone tells me something like, ‘It’s not Halloween’ or ‘Go back to your country,’” says the 33-year-old.
Now that Quebec, the Canadian province where she lives, has passed a law putting limits on full-face veils in public, Naili is afraid the harassment will get worse. “The law will only put oil on the fire,” she says.
The law will effectively bar Muslim women who wear face veils from using public transportation or obtaining public health-care services. It will also prohibit public workers like doctors and teachers from covering their faces at work. Experts say it’s the first such ban in North America.
For many Muslim women, covering their hair in public is a sign of modesty and an essential part of their faith. Some go further, covering their faces as well. The new law doesn’t specifically mention the burqa or niqab, types of Muslim coverings that conceal the face (see “A Guide to Muslim Veils,” below), but Canadian Muslims say the law singles them out for discrimination.
Quebec officials say the law is necessary for security reasons to be able to properly identify people in photo IDs (for example, to verify their bus pass). The measure is also meant to reduce the presence of religious symbols in public, reinforcing a principle of “religious neutrality,” they say.
Controversies over head coverings are becoming more common in some parts of the West, as immigration from the Middle East and North Africa increases. In Europe, France, Belgium, Austria, and Germany all have laws that seek to regulate the covering of women’s faces in public. The issue highlights an ongoing clash between ideas of religious freedom and national identity.