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‘What if my daughter is afraid of her?’

28 February 2012 General 32 Comments Email This Post Email This Post
Women who wear the niqab usually remove it when no men are present, as was the case at the daycare.   Read more:

Women who wear the niqab usually remove it when no men are present, as was the case at the daycare.

‘What if my daughter is afraid of her?’


Not too long ago, if I saw a woman walking down the street with her face covered by a niqab, I would feel it was my duty to glare. As a non-religious feminist, I had decided that a woman who covers her face is oppressed – that she is uneducated, and that her husband is making her cover up because he’s crazy and/or jealous.

OK, I’m exaggerating a little, but you get the point.

And yet until two months ago, I didn’t even really know a single Muslim. I went to high school in an Ottawa suburb, where I was baptized a Catholic so that I could qualify for schooling in the Catholic school system, which was considered better than the more open public system.

We had one year of religious education that gave us a glimpse of world religions. But I’m pretty sure my education about Islam came mainly from CNN, or Fox. I went to university in a small town in Ontario. I didn’t meet any Muslims there, either.

My real education about Islam came very recently, courtesy of a Montreal daycare.

Last December, I was seeking daycare for my daughter. At only 10 months old, she was still very dependent on her parents, and we wanted to find a place that would nurture her – rock her to sleep if need be, warm up my expressed breast milk and even be open to using our cloth diapers.

I punched our address into the database, and the first one that came up was a 30-second walk from where we would be moving in a matter of weeks. The daycare provider, Sophie, had outlined her views on discipline, praise, healthy foods and the child-centred approach of Montessori. She was someone I felt I could get along with.

I phoned her and we talked for an hour, laughing and chatting and eventually deciding on a time to meet. She shared a great many of the values that my partner and I do. She was also highly educated, trained as a civil engineer.

Before we said goodbye, she added, “Oh, just so you know, I’m Muslim.”

I said I didn’t care, because I didn’t.

She assured me that her daycare didn’t teach religion. Cool.

But then she told me that when she’s in public, she covers her face.

She said the last time she didn’t warn a family over the phone that she wears the niqab, they walked into the meeting and then walked straight out.

I said I didn’t care, but when we got off the phone, I realized I did care. The first thing I thought was, “What if my daughter is afraid of her?”

My family drove over to meet Sophie, her husband and son.

She came to the door, dressed in black from head to toe.

It was the first time I had been in the same room as a woman wearing the niqab.

I felt nervous. But my daughter didn’t flinch.

The daycare was cozy; most of the toys were made of natural materials. There were lots of books, a reading corner and a birdwatching area. Books on Montessori activities lined the shelves. Nothing was battery-operated; there was no television.

It was perfect.

We spoke for a bit, all together in the room before Sophie’s husband put a hand on my fiancé’s back and they went downstairs to see the other half of the daycare. Once the guys left, Sophie took off the niqab.

I could feel my heart and my mind open at that very moment.

My daughter has been going to this daycare for more than two months now, and we are very happy with the care she is given.

When they are inside with the children, the daycare providers (the majority of whom are Muslim) are mostly dressed in plain clothes – jeans and a sweater, long hair pulled back in a loose ponytail. These women do not cover their faces in the presence of children, women or close family.

My daughter isn’t afraid of any of the women who take care of her, whether they have their faces covered or not. On the contrary, she reaches out to them for a hug every morning. To my daughter, the women who work at the daycare are simply the women who hold her when she’s sad, wipe blueberries off her face, clean her snotty nose and change her cloth diapers.

My daughter isn’t growing up with the same ideas about Muslim women that I did.

I’m glad she’s learning something in daycare.

So am I.

JENN HARDY is a freelance journalist and blogger who challenges mainstream parenting at

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette


  1. Muslim women’s garb can be off-putting; it’s meant to be. Most of us are used to seeing people’s faces. But one gets over it, as one does with anything initially strange to us but harmless.

  2. Very nice piece. I find that it’s difficult to live as an openly NON-racist, NON-sexist, NON-religously biased person. I am accepting of any and all who cross my path (as long as they aren’t being violent toward me or others). There are very few of my friends that are not prejudiced in some way. I have such a difficult time when someone makes a degrading remark about some group different than that to which they belong. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for trying to make a difference in the life of your child and bringing her up to realize that we are all children of this planet and that acceptance is more appropriate than hatred. You’re doing the RIGHT thing in a crazy WRONG world. 🙂

  3. a really good story 🙂 more people who initially felt like the mother should have an experience like this.

  4. WHAT a blessing to read this message this morning. THANK you for sharing both your own fears and your delight in the knowledge that you and your daughter are learning something new — knowing and accepting. Peace, Jackie Haessly,

  5. Please support Judge Martin. He is being viciously attacked after he lectured an Islamophobe who insulted prophet Mohamed at a parade in PA that freedom of speech does not mean he hurts or insults others. All the anti-Muslim organizations (especially the CNN) are leading a dirty campaign against the man for refusing a bigoted action against Islam. You will find the story on the CNN, but here is his contact.. please please please send a letter of support and call to thank this wonderful judge for his actions. Please!

    Mark W. Martin
    Magisterial District Judges
    Title: Magisterial District Judge
    Phone: 717.766.4575

    507 N. York St.
    Mechanicsburg, PA 17055
    Ph: 717.766.4575
    Fx: 717.766.2238

  6. Very sweet story 🙂

  7. My one year old daughter was afraid of women in Hijabs, which didn’t bode well for our upcoming trip Egypt and meeting her grandmother and other family members. It took her about 5 seconds to get over it.

  8. I wish more people would take the time to read this, though most would be too afraid to. Questioning a person’s beliefs or things they feel they know, frightens and angers most people. When a person feels their values are in question, avoidance is an easier approach. Especially when the one questioning their values is themselves.

  9. This is a great story. It is impressive that a graduate of a Catholic education turned out to be so open. I am really glad you are sharing this story with the world.

  10. when i volunteered at my son’s preschool, i had the cute little 2 and 3 yrs old girls tell me that they loved my scarf. (:

  11. Rose, some of the most open minded and giving people I have ever met are Catholic women. Don’t let moron’s like Rick Santorum define what a Catholic is. I abandon the religion a long time ago, but run a non-profit and work with very smart, giving and love filled Catholic women all of the time.

  12. I had nuns as a child & they were semi-covered AND were truly SCARY!

  13. The judge in question pretty much said it was ok for a muslim man to physically attack the atheist with the offending outfit. The judge over stepped his bounds by saying it was pretty much a permitted attack. Being mad at someone for being offensive is one thing,but do muslims react violently to religious bigotry so often that they need a judge to warn everybody that they are gonna get assaulted for being disrespectful? It doesn’t sound like the judge held everyone he should have accountable. The atheist deserved the lecture..but unless the Muslim was defending himself from something more than hurt feelings.. Assault charges shouldn’t have been dropped.

  14. I have the opposite issue. Teaching in the UAE, I have mothers that worry about kids seeing me in public uncovered. The kids don’t mind at all. The fathers might be a little puzzled, but that doesn’t bother me. Carrying on parent teacher conferences the veil use to bother me because I couldn’t see how what I was saying was being received, now I’m so used to reading just the eyes, that my bigger concern is making what I have to say understandable because most of my moms don’t speak English and I only know a few basic things in Arabic.

  15. Sadaf, you are correct imho!

    A nikabi in the West is usually just a convert trying to make a political point, it is an absurdity. Or maybe she has something to hide.

  16. great piece. I really enjoyed reading it.

  17. Great!

  18. I admit I have many of the author’s preconceived notions, but I would also be willing to give Sophie a chance to care for my children if I were in the same situation. Bless kids, they have no preconceived notions. If they learn that Muslim women in veils and burqas and the like are good, caring women then when they become adults their notion will be that they’re not that much different from them.

  19. Or maybe, anon, it’s none of your business!

    Little kids learn fear. Teach your children to be afraid, ignorant, xenophobic, what have you and they probably will be. Or do as the author did and take it on faith that the other person is just that: a person. They have their own reasons for their own autonomous decisions.

    When I vote, THAT’S a political statement. And the only “absurdity” is your comment on what you think could be the only two explanations for the prefered dress of a woman you’ve never met in your life.

  20. Again, anon you show your ignorance. Educate yourself so that you might have the chance to appear credible.

  21. My opinion of the nikab in the West is that it is ridiculous and the person wearing it is in the grip of a neurotic compulsion and maybe not the very best person to do your child care.

  22. So clothing is completely normal and niqaab is a neurotic compulsion? It’s all just cloth worn for different reasons.

    In my home town summer conditions stayed in the upper 90s to around 100 with high humidity for months. But people wore cloths. They were hot and uncomfortable and people routinely were admitted to the hospital for heat sickness. The argument could be made that people would have been much cooler naked but still they wore clothes because they didn’t think it was acceptable not to. Isn’t that as much of a “neurotic compulsion” as wearing clothing for religious purposes?

  23. You will not be cooler if you are naked. One must drink plenty of water. Prevailing wisdom says to wear 2 shirts.

    Covering your face is neurotic in the West. Doesn’t look healthy to me, one’s exhalations fall back upon the face and neck. Also looks aggressive in the West.

  24. Excellent article.

  25. Anon
    If you read the article, she didnt wear it in front of the kids, only men.

    Niqab is something thats suposed to hide beauty. The prophets wives made quite a statement when they were the first to ever wear them.

    How does a sheet of fabric “hide something”

  26. I personally wouldn’t wear it because when you pray you cant cover your face or hands so if theyre in a public place and they need to pray theyre screwed. But i respect women who do it. Takes real faith and devotion

  27. Veil make women ugly and horror. Stupid Islam teaching create by Muhammad terrorist

  28. Peace

    Lol i love my hijab, it being a way of life for both men and women. The fabric is called Mandeel. And it can’t be stupid, it’s an inanimate object. If you believe in all those things than you’re little name is contradictory.

  29. Well, Islam, is a religion, actually read about it, and grow a brain, please 🙂

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  31. Canada will look like Saudi Arabia, pretty soon. Poor Canada and bravo Québec and Bernard Drainville for resisting Islamist propaganda.

  32. I’m a high school teacher and I wear a headscarf. My students are very cool with it — I don’t proselytize, of course, but sometimes they ask me about it and it always leads to great discussions about identity. I would be completely comfortable (indeed, very excited!) if my own two kids were taught by someone who was different from them, whether in terms of race, religion, sexual orientation, whatever. I want my own kids to not be afraid of diversity nor seek to control/change it. This stuff starts young — it’s so important that we raise our kids not to be haters!

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