Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Asking questions about Islam

News. 24, Keifer Sutherland’s hit show. Documentaries, books, magazines.

Everyone is talking about Muslims, Muslim culture and especially about Muslims practicing their faith within a secular, pluralist Western society. Journalists, editorialists, politicians, casual observers are all struggling with some questions about our relationship to this significant minority. Environics Research even asked Muslims about their relationship to Canada. Their report was the top of the morning news on February 13.

What makes this remarkable are the convoluted questions they ask. Actually, the questions we all, in our secular, pluralistic society, have to ask.

Photo source: Tolerance.org

Take, for instance, the issue of the hijab, the head-scarf that many Muslim women wear. Environics, CBC News and others ask how people feel about them. How do Muslim women feel about them? It’s not trivial: France has forbidden women to wear them in schools, and other countries have taken stands against or for them.

There’s a deep conflict that’s difficult to resolve. On one hand, we feel that people should be free to wear what they want and worship as they wish. On the other hand, wearing the hijab is not optional for many Muslims. Even in Western countries, some women feel pressured and intimidated into wearing them. So there’s the conflict.

One of the most interesting aspects is the logical somersaults that politicians, journalists and commentators make about this, trying to stand up for both sides of the issue at once. Let’s see how convoluted they get.

How do you feel about this? Should Canada ban the hijab, or legislate some way to protect those who do not wish to wear them? What about veils covering the face – should they be outlawed? What about turbans?

Are we even asking the right questions? Tell me what you think.


  1. Anonymous9:26 PM

    I don't care what kind of secular society we live in! The hijab is something that all Moslems have the right to wear and by banning them we create a conflict of our own! By banning hijabs in schools, France is also pressuring muslim women into doing what it wants. Nations that ban it are not secular—they are fascist. They are merely reinforcing traditional anti-muslim Christian fudamentalism. The hijab should NOT be banned. Nor should the the turban.

    The Burka/veil, however should not be allowed. There is no freedom involved here. A Hijab m,akes sense in the western world bu not a veil. Women should not be forced to cover their faces!

  2. Interesting comment: you want to protect the freedom to wear a hijab for religious reasons, but not the veil or burka.

    What if women want to wear a face veil?

    And, most important, in the West, how can we protect Muslim women who do not want to wear a hijab from being pressured into doing so by family or community leaders?

  3. Anonymous3:34 PM

    I enjoyed reading this article on the Islam debate. I tend to agree with the author.

    Above all, in my mind, this debate exists only as a media fiction. To what extent does this debate have a real, concrete impact on our daily life with our Muslim friends? I don't know and I wonder.

    I think the debate has an impact on those who believe in this media fiction. Sadly, the problem is that this fiction will eventually lead to collective paranoia and degenerate in a bad story of fictitious hate and hanger.

    Don’t let the media corrupt your mind with fictitious, inexistent feelings or concepts. Trust your own experience and judgement. Only then, will you be able to discern between what is real and what is not.

  4. Thanks for your comment.

    I agree with much of your idea, except that I don't think it's a media fiction. The incident of the young girl being ejected from a soccer game in Quebec for wearing a hijab shows just how real the misunderstanding is. On the other hand, it does point to the "paranoia" that you predicted.

    FIFA has a rule about scarves in soccer games, and I think they have a point. Similarly, I agree that turbans don't make sense where hardhats are required. It's a matter of practicality over faith. Still, we must make these decisions with all respect paid to religion.

    The question remains, though: how do we protect the rights of people to wear religious items when they want to, and at the same time, protect the members of a faith community from being pressured into wearing, or doing, something prescribed by that faith, against their will?

  5. Anonymous10:05 AM

    Egypt shows yellow card over hijab ban
    Several dailies in the English-language press report that Egypt has warned of "mounting signs of racism and intolerance in Canada" over the recent game expulsion of an 11-year-old soccer player for wearing her Islamic headscarf. The article quotes the Egyptian Foreign Ministry: “The question of wearing the headscarf should remain a part of individual freedoms, so long as it does not harm security, public order or the values of a society.” However, the articles note the Egyptian ambassador to Canada Mahmoud El-Saeed, has downplayed his Foreign Ministry's comments and said the criticisms levelled against Canada were only reflective of Egypt's "concern for the status of Muslims around the world." It is noted Mr. El-Saeed said he discussed the case with his government and assured them the incident was an anomaly in Canada. Mr. El-Saeed states: “I explained to Cairo that the situation in Canada is different -- it is a very tolerant place...This was just one soccer match and one province...I explained to Cairo that this was one incident, that the referee who made the decision was reported to be a Muslim himself ... and that this does not reflect the position of the [Canadian] federal government."