Religous Freedom?

English: A women with Burqa
Image via Wikipedia

Canada has officially banned the wearing of a  at citizenship swearing in ceremonies. The reason stated is that with a burqa being worn, it is difficult to ensure that the oath is being recited. Some are seeing this as a necessary thing while others are taking umbrage at the lack of religious freedom that Canada prides itself on. Could this be the first step on the path to follow Belgium and France and banning the wearing of a burqa anywhere and if so, should Canada do so?

The burqa is headgear with openings for the eyes. It is mostly associated with Muslim women although some areas of Pakistan have a tradition of wearing a burqa that are not based in religion. The Quran has been interpreted in different ways with some scholars announcing that the Quran clearly states that Muslim women must cover themselves when leaving the home, others have believe that it does not. Even within the Muslim world there is many varying opinions with some for and some against the wearing. While many will argue that the choice to wear the covering is optional and should be up to the woman herself, all agree that forcing women to either wear the burqa or not are both unacceptable. Many women choose to wear a burqa without any pressure from anyway.

In April of this year, France introduced a ban on any wearing of a burqa in public, while claiming that this isn’t a law that is aimed at one particular religion or piece of clothing. There are exceptions though, mainly for sporting, entertainment or safety, be it motorcycles or health reasons. The year before Belgium had also passed a similar bill while in Italy as far back as 1975 it has been forbidden to wear a dress that hides the persons face. To draft these laws with such vague language, it doesn’t focus on Islamic women yet the only ones affected by the laws are Islamic women. And ninjas.

According to the 2001 Canadian census, out of a population of nearly 30 million, approximately 600,000, or about 2% of the population declared themselves as Muslim, yet the number has now risen to just under 1 million and is the fastest growing religion in Canada. While many claim that there is no prejudice towards people of other religions, often in order to take certain jobs or to simply fit in, people are told to abandon certain aspects of their religion.

Sikh men wear a turban, or Dastar or Dumalla, which protects the hair and keeps it clean as they do not cut their hair as a sign of respect for God. Many Sikh men wishing to serve his community and become a police officer must face a choice between services and wearing his turban. The NYPD recently had their rules changed to allow Sikh men to grow their beards and wear their turban. These officers will wear a turban of navy blue material to match the uniform. In the UK, Sikh officers either wear a blue turban with a chequered police strip on it or a plain turban with a police badge on it. In Australia this year, the Victoria state police have designed a police turban that features the service’s checker board pattern. These are three examples of compromise rather than having the officers make a choice. In predominately Sikh areas of a city, seeing a turban wearing policeman can only have a positive effect.

While the argument with both the burqa and turban is that people have to fit in and have to adapt, there are two different aspects to it. For the Sikh policemen, many believe that if you wear a uniform, you should wear the uniform completely, with any exception. With Muslim women wearing a burqa there is the issue with being unable to identify the person behind the cloth.

Canada lists in the Great Charter of Freedoms, Freedom of conscience and religion. When applying for Canadian citizenship, a booklet is handed out called the Discover Canada, The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship. In Canada the state has traditionally partnered with faith communities to promote social welfare, harmony and mutual respect; to provide schools and health care; to resettle refugees; and to uphold religious freedom, religious expression and freedom of conscience.

This should allow anyone to wear anything associated with their religion, be it a Star of David, Christ on a Cross, a turban, burqa or anything else. This is religious freedom. To take up the same spirit of the police in the UK, Australia and New York, why doesn’t the Canadian government accommodate burqa wearers? If the worry is that it is difficult to know if Muslim women are saying the oath as they become Canadians, why not have a separate ceremony for just Muslim wears who wear a burqa so that it is easier to hear them? What if the ceremony is held by Muslim women for Muslim women?

Religious freedom is a right that millions around the world have died for, but with many countries still refusing to accept it. If someone chooses to profess their religion by wearing something, Canada should not only allow but encourage. To do anything else would simply mean that religious freedom is nothing but words.

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