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by Molly Thomas

Long sleeves, shapeless cloth and a scarf that covers the mouth: an unimaginable wardrobe for most Canadian girls, but a proud statement for 25-year-old Hadeel Bin-Amer.

Bin-Amer wears a niqab. Unlike hijabs or head coverings, these traditional Saudi Arabian outfits cover the entire body and veil the mouth. In public, only her eyes are visible.       

Long sleeves, shapeless cloth and a scarf that covers the mouth: an unimaginable wardrobe for most Canadian girls, but a proud statement for 25-year-old Hadeel Bin-Amer.

Bin-Amer wears a niqab. Unlike hijabs or head coverings, these traditional Saudi Arabian outfits cover the entire body and veil the mouth. In public, only her eyes are visible.


She still remembers the first time she walked into the University of Regina. "I felt like a Disney character, like Mickey or Minnie Mouse" she said. She recalls people gawking and staring. "What's that?" she assumed onlookers wondered.


To her surprise, most students were simply curious. No one has said a rude
word since she arrived two years ago. One caucasian student even approached her saying "Salaam," meaning peace in Arabic. This simple gesture made her feel at home.


Although popular in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, the niqab is less prevalent in Canada. This rang true at the University of Regina where Bin-Amer didn't see another niqab-wearing Muslim for months. Yet she refused to dial down her clothing saying, "I'm not scared or feel like I'm under stress. I feel proud, like I'm reflecting my religion."


It's a statement the Muslim Canadian Congress is trying to disprove. Just last week, they asked the federal government to ban niqabs, masks and burkas. The congress said such apparel marginalizes women, making them less equal to men. They also think it's a part of Saudi fundamentalism rather than a part of Islam.


But Bin-Amer is a trailblazer for some, especially for the growing Saudi population on campus. A scholarship initiated by Saudi's King, Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, has given 60,000 Saudi students the opportunity to study anywhere in the world, some of whom have chosen Regina. Over one hundred Saudi Arabian students studied at the university last year. The ESL program fostered most of these students. They alone saw a five fold increase since spring 2008.


It's a welcome trend for the Muslim Students Association (MSA). Besides fostering a campus community, the association addresses negative propaganda through education.


One way of doing this is through Islamic Awareness Week. Rabab Aboudheir's smile can be seen a mile away as she sits behind the group's hallway information table. Born in Libya, she moved to Canada when she was five. She wears the hijab but unlike in high school, hasn't felt any discrimination on campus. As a minority, she stresses that character and confidence go farther than outward appearance. "If a person has a stereotype about you, your personality should dispel that" she said.


Loanne Myrah, the international coordinator for UR International and Terese Gerrond, academic coordinator for ESL both say discrimination issues are practically non-existent on campus. Nonetheless, a student councilor is available to ESL students for non-academic problems.

Since 2007, the implementation of a campus prayer room has given Muslim students more religious freedom. Mass prayers are also organized each Friday in Gym 1. If the Muslim population grows, the MSA may opt for a larger prayer space; this may be the case if more Saudi students are on the way. An exciting thought for Bin-Amer. "Then others will understand that it's not just me, there are others," she said.