During the hearings taking place these days before the Superior Court of Quebec, some women supporters of the law on secularism of the state have resorted to arguments tinged by their personal experiences. In support of their positions, in addition to their past as citizens of certain so-called “Muslim” totalitarian regimes and the difficulty for them to be seen as full citizens, they mention religion. as a personal choice; therefore children should not have to endure the religiosity of another, especially when acting as a teacher.
It must be said that these arguments, if they are admissible from an emotional point of view, are far from creating a peaceful debate on the relationship of religion with society, because that is what it is about. . When a teacher decides to teach while wearing the veil, the question arises as to whether she should be able to do so. In reality, the position of these women cannot be admissible, because it would lead to establishing atheism as a “state religion”. However, we are talking about a secular regime and not a regime where atheism is the state religion.
If the regime of secularism applies, the whole question relates to the notion of proselytism and the moral constraint that the teacher would bring to her students. However, proselytism is not defined as the simple wearing of a religious symbol; at the most, seeing the teachers wearing a religious symbol would make the children grow older, more tolerant and more respectful of Quebec’s diversity. Rather, proselytizing should be defined as the willingness to verbally and in writing disseminate a religious ideology to one’s students and by forcing them to adopt a religious point of view on a given issue.
These acts should be reprehensible, as anyone who imposes their religion on another person in a secular country would be subject to disciplinary action. But we see here that the debate is completely out of place, if not inadequately proposed in the public debate.
A second argument is regularly raised by the defenders of the law on secularism: the situation of women in Iran. The question is that of the relationship between the situation in Iran and that in Quebec. There is no common measure between these two models of society. Obviously, forcing women to wear the veil should be sanctioned, but not all of our teachers in Quebec come from Iran or Saudi Arabia. They were sometimes born and raised in Quebec and feel perfectly integrated. If in a personal journey related to faith, they have decided to wear the headscarf, what is wrong with doing that? In trying at all costs to fight against the importation of what is happening in Iran, we should not forget the reality of Quebec society aiming to ensure living together, respect for the clothing choices of some and others and the universal model of freedoms established by our country.
We understand the suffering of women who have suffered atrocities at the hands of so-called “Muslim” totalitarian regimes. On the other hand, their personal stories must be a force for the national story aiming to bring to life the principle of tolerance and not to create prohibitions which would lead us, dangerously, to stigmatization and then to discrimination; because if that happens, what difference would we have with these despots who impose the veil, when we force women to show their hair in Quebec? To meditate.
Nabil A. Mirza
Imam of the Muslim Jama’at Ahmadiyya of Quebec