Winnipeg event explores right for Muslim women to choose to wear hijab

As protests in Iran continue following the death of a woman arrested for wearing “inappropriate attire,” a group of Muslim women in Winnipeg will share their perspectives on the right to choose to wear hijab on Friday night.

In Iran, headscarves have been compulsory for all women since the 1979 revolution. The country’s morality police enforces that, sometimes violently.

Last month, Mahsa Amini, 22, died in police custody after being detained by police for allegedly violating the rules.

Friday night’s Canadian Museum for Human Rights event will focus on education and addressing misconceptions about Muslim women, which Syrian-born panellist Zoulaykah Al Lilo says she has addressed for most of her life.

“People approach me with an already pre-existing view, or believe that I’m oppressed or that I belong to a group of oppressed women,” said Al Lilo, a student at the University of Winnipeg who chooses to wear the hijab.

“I know for myself that I am an educated woman who is free to make my own choices in life.”

In Lilo’s family, some women — like her —wear a hijab, while others choose not to, she said.

“I want to live in a society where both of these choices are respected and honoured equally.”

The fight for women’s bodily autonomy isn’t exclusive to Iran or Muslim women, says Nuzhat Jafri, the executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, who will also be part of Friday night’s panel at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which will be moderated by museum CEO Issa Khan.

“South of the border … women are struggling for their reproductive rights and the right to choose, that’s really not that different from a woman deciding what to wear,” she said.

Jafri, who doesn’t wear a hijab, said she has childhood memories of her mother wearing something much different than the current headscarf. 

She described it as a thin veil that her mother wore occasionally, depending on how she felt that day and what she was doing. 

“When you look at the [religious] texts, they are not as prescriptive as people might think they are,” Jafri said.

Ultimately, wearing a hijab is a personal choice, she says, and both choices deserve respect.

“We should be relating human to human, regardless of what I’m wearing.”