Two sides to every story…

Some individuals believe that religious tolerance should be part of Quebec’s human rights policies. While other individuals claim that religious tolerance, in particular situations, can result in allowing issues of gender inequality, and other issues to occur. Where do you stand with relation to religious tolerance?

This is an ongoing debate in Quebec, and it was recently re-heated after a Muslim woman was kicked out  for a second time from her language class, because she was refusing to remove her Niqab. For those that are unaware of the Niqab and the Hijab, they are religious garments that Muslim women wear. There is a further on-going debate concerning these religious symbols. Islamic scholars have been debating whether wearing a Niqab is obliged, recommended, or not allowed at all. The interpretation of their religious texts are not all equivalent, thus the debate. There is no doubt, existentially, that a Muslim woman can choose if she wants to wear one, or if she does not. Although this is not necessarily true in all cases, as there may be specific cases where as a woman does not have a choice in the matter, and she is forced by her family or religious community to wear one. If it is the latter, then it has become a variation in culture, and cultural differences are a separate discussion in themselves.

Now, I find it increasingly difficult in our multicultural nation to refuse an individual access to education based on religious and cultural norms. The women in this case was asked to leave because wearing her Niqab imposed on the learning methods that Quebec uses in their French immersion courses. For me this seems like a bunch hooey, if the woman decided to learn French then she is doing it out of her own will and surely is dedicated to learning the language. Whether she wears her Niqab definitely does not change her dedication to learning the language, nor do I see how it imposes on the governments teaching methods as she had already been attending the class for forty-five days without problem. The Quebec government stepped in and claimed that they needed to see her face. I do not see any valid reasons for their claim. I am more than certain that she could manage learning the language while wearing her Niqab. I say this next statement for example purposes only and not to remove any symbolic value from the Niqab. I could easily wear a scarf over my face and still manage to learn a language. So why is it that she must remove her Niqab? Unfortunately, I do not know.

Just as a reminder to us all, Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and under our fundamental rights here in Canada;

Click the image for a larger view.

With this in mind, it seems that it is the onus of the Quebec government to explain as to why they choose not to stand by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This woman has the right to express herself in her religion, regardless of whether or not it ‘imposes’ on learning methods. Quebec’s policies need to be updated, that there is no doubt.

Another common argument heard concerning this issues is that of gender inequality. The argument is centered around the pressure put on Muslim women to wear the Niqab, or the Hijab by their male oppressors. As I mentioned earlier, it may be the case that some woman are forced to wear it because of culturally embedded  beliefs. Although it should be said that – we should be aware of cultural relativism as it is important in a multicultural nation.This is to say that what one culture holds as a belief could be just as ‘unacceptable’ to one other culture while one of our own beliefs may be just the same. In this it is not right for a government to generalize an entire religion over specific and particular cases. As in the case with this woman, she came to Canada surely aware of it’s multicultural status, and with this she also surely understands that if she willed it she could choose not to wear it. And if she was being forced to wear it then it is up to her (if she chooses not to wear it) to say something and seek the appropriate resources to help her out of her patriarchal dictatorship (if that is the case). Otherwise it should not be of any issue to the institution.

Quebec should not interfere with an individuals religious freedoms, more so when the reasons given are not sufficient and do not consider the woman’s fundamental human rights here in Canada. In an ever growing multicultural country, Quebec should first be tolerant of others religious views, and secondly concern themselves with the woman’s well-being if and only if she asks for help of any kind. Claiming that a piece of material covering an individuals face imposes on their ability to learn a language is far from believable. For me at least,  it seems as thought Quebec is trying to keep “Quebec’s culture” alive. Allowing this women to study French while wearing her Niqab will not impose on Quebec’s culture. Rather it would help to show the world that as a society we can live together peacefully, sharing culture with one another. And if she did decide to get away from any freedom inhibitors coming from her own culture, then I would be glad to know that we were helped and supported her while she transitioned to a different kind of freedom.

Please post your comments, thoughts, ideas, feelings on the matter. Thank you.

**Note: Please do not consider the use of Wikipedia as a valuable, or reliable resource for information. I linked the Niqab and Hijab pages so that you may get a brief yet not complete, or accurate understanding of the significance that they have to the Islamic religions. **


– Department of Justice Canada

~ by Peter on March 20, 2010.

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