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Scarborough MP responds to criticism over wearing hijab, says she's recovering from cancer

A Scarborough MP who became the first woman to wear a hijab on Parliament Hill is speaking out after being subjected to criticism online. Salma Zahid said she never set out to break barriers – rather, her decision to don the religious headgear while on the job was a very personal one related to her health.

When Zahid addressed parliament this past May, it was the first time in her three years in office that she had ever done so while wearing a headscarf. Her current look is noticeably different from the photos that still adorn her office. Multiple head shots and framed pictures show the Scarborough Centre MP posing without the Islamic head covering.

“When I go to events now, at first look sometimes people don’t recognize me,” she said. “But I’m the same person; its the same Salma Zahid.”

While Zahid says reaction has been mostly positive, her hijab has garnered some negative attention — including that of right-wing commentator Ezra Levant who retweeted her photos from a recent veteran’s event, writing, “You don’t wear a hijab in your Liberal Party campaign propaganda photos. So why did you wear a hijab at the legion?”

“I never thought this would be a reaction, that people would be upset or worried,” Zahid told CityNews.

“It’s the way I look, it’s my choice, it should be left to me.”

But Zahid took to Twitter to explain that her choice was never about taking a political stance or making a religious statement, but instead, had everything to do with her health.

“For all those who are asking, I’ve chosen to wear a head scarf for now while I recover from the effects of my cancer treatment and chemotherapy,” she tweeted.

“When you’re facing that sort of illness, naturally you get more closer to your faith,” Zahid said.
“Explaining this… it’s a bit of an awkward situation.”

Levant appears to have deleted the original tweet — but later posted: “Zahid says she is recovering from cancer treatment and is wearing the hijab for that reason. That’s a good reason. She also supports hijabs for Islamist reasons. That’s not a good reason.”

“I’m wearing it for medical purposes, but I will stand for those who want to wear it,” Zahid said in response.

“I’m a strong believer that diversity is the great strength of Canada. It’s not a barrier, so everyone should have the right to wear what they want and no one should impose things on people.”

Zahid is now in remission and back to work on the hill after a two month sick leave. She says while her appearance has changed, what has stayed the same is her commitment to the community that elected her in 2015.

“The way I look doesn’t matter,” Zahid said.

“It’s what I do for the community and how we work for a better future.”