Respect is Canadian.
Respect for a person or group demands a positive outlook and openness to diversity: the idea that others can be different yet equal. Respect asks us to value our neighbours, and to be our better, more open-minded selves by refraining from judgement.
Canada is an ethnically and culturally diverse nation which accepts all manners of dress and appearance – from turbans to tattoos. Our culture welcomes and encourages awareness and acceptance of a broad range of lifestyles, and together we weave new traditions. Many new Canadians have embraced customs of their adopted country, while ethnic celebrations like Divali, Chinese New Year, Hanukkah, Vaisakhi and Eid have also taken root in Canadian soil.
However, one essential aspect of Canadian culture and tradition need not—must not—change: Respect. The federal government’s approach to the ‘niqab (veil) issue’ appears to contravene this cherished value.
Two key points must be clarified at this juncture: a) the veil is a religious practice, not a cultural one, a practice well explained and treated in Islamic texts; and b) Islamic guidelines do not forbid women from uncovering their faces in situations of need, such as verification of identity. Muslim women all around the world wear the veil and commonly uncover their faces for official identification purposes, such as having passport and other ID pictures taken. For women to unveil only for the sake of confirming their identity, or verify that they are speaking the words of oath is, in the light of Islamic law, a non-issue.
The real issue is the lack of respect demonstrated by the federal government towards Muslim ideals. If there was a practical reason for banning the veil from the Canadian Citizenship ceremony, it could have been addressed in a way which would not single out a religious denomination, or gender for that matter. A straightforward official requirement for all citizenship applicants to have their identity confirmed prior to the oath ceremony, and visibly utter the words of oath, without anything obscuring the view of the officials while they repeat the oath could be simply and easily implemented, putting this on par with the requirements for a drivers’ licence or passport.
However, a harmless religious practice was publicly scorned and deemed contradictory to Canadian values, speculations were made about what the practice means or what view of women it represents, and erroneous perceptions of the female gender were wrongly attributed to Islam. This approach has left many people questioning the actual purpose of the new regulation.
No one is asking for preferential treatment. It is a simple matter of defending and upholding one ethic that most Canadians do value: Respect.
(Mufti) Aasim Rashid
BC Muslim Association
Director of Religion and Islamic Education
Spokesperson on Religious Affairs