Volume 12 Week 5

Sunday, Jan. 20


Posted Jan. 10

Posted Jan. 9

Posted Jan. 7


Orléans Ward
Matt Luloff

Beacon Hill,
Cyrville Ward
Tim Tierney





Niqab debate: Much ado about nothing or slippery slope?

By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

It's hard to believe that a simple face-covering could cause so much consternation among so many people.

I've held back in wading into the niqab debate until I had a chance to talk to some of my friends and associates to gauge their views, which quite frankly have ranged from enlightened to out and out racist.

Personally, while I understand where all the fuss is coming from, I couldn't disagree more.

In order to become a Canadian citizen you must have lived in this country for six years; have filed an income tax return for at least four of those six years; have an "adequate" knowledge of at least one official language; and pass a citizenship test demonstrating an adequate knowledge of Canada and the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship.

Having done all that, they must attend a citizenship ceremony where they must take the Citizenship Oath.

Notice that the final step in becoming a Canadian citizen is attending a citizenship ceremony, which is well-named because it is largely ceremonious. Frankly, I couldn't care less if a woman who happens to be Muslim wants to cover her face or not. If they've met all the requirements in attaining their Canadian citizenship, God bless them.

It's a non-issue to me in an election where there are hundreds of more important issues like what should be done about the rising racist sentiment towards Muslims in Canadian society?

I've heard the argument that allowing Muslim women to cover their faces while taking the Citizenship Oath is a slippery slope that will further erode the Judeo-Christian values on which this country was founded. Forget the fact that Judaism and Christianity share a common Abrahamic foundation with Islam, what about the Judeo-Christian values of compassion, empathy, and common decency, which by the way, are not exclusive to either Christianity or Judaism.

I, too, am worried that the niqab issue will lead us down a slippery slope, but I see the debate resulting in a country that is less compassionate, less empathetic and much more intransigent. And that to me is far worse than getting my shorts in a not over whether or not a Muslim woman of faith who's been living in Canada for six years; filed her income taxes on time; and has passed a test which 9 in 10 natural born Canadians would have difficulty passing, where's a face covering during a citizenship ceremony.

I should point out that the niqab issue is just as controversial within the Islamic community as it is among non-Muslims.

Egypt's top Islamic school banned the wearing of the niqab in 2009. In modern Iran, the niqab is only worn by certain ethnic minorities including a minority of Arab Muslims, while in Azerbaijan, Tunisia and Turkey, where the overwhelming majority of the population is Muslim, it has been outlawed.

Here in Canada, the Muslim Canadian Congress called for a ban on both the niqab and the burka, saying that they have no basis in Islam.

Most women who wear a niqab do so as an observance of their faith within a particular Islamic denomination.

That's right, Islam is not a monolithic religion. Just as there are many denominations within Christianity, there are many denominations within Islam and some require female members to where a niqab, especially in the presence of non-Muslim men.

I'd like to think that we are big enough and accepting enough as a nation to allow female members of Muslim denominations that require the wearing of a niqab in public to take the Citizenship Oath without forcing them to compromise their faith and beliefs. That is what separates us from the Frances, Belgiums and Netherlands of the world.

Besides, what is more "culturally barbaric", wearing a niqab in public, or an entire society forcing Muslim women of faith to live in fear and isolation for no other reason than to satisfy our own petty fears and biases?

That's a rhetorical question, by the way.

The fact is one woman wearing a niqab while taking the Citizenship Oath is no more threatening to our society and values than a Sihk wearing a turban, or a Jewish male wearing a yamaka, or a Catholic wearing a crucifix. They are one in the same.

If anything, allowing the practice makes us all better and strengthens a society that should take pride in being tolerant, accepting and even welcoming of other cultures and religions. To not allow it is to give in to ignorance, fear and the powers that pull us apart rather than pull us together.

I choose the former.

(Updated 1 a.m., Oct. 6)





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