The incidents that began with the expulsion of a Muslim sister from a French language course have now escalated to the Quebec government barring Muslims wearing the niqab from obtaining provincial services. The ban is politically opportunistic, pressures Muslims to abandon some of the Ahkam of Islam, and paints the Muslims as foreigners. In terms of voicing our opposition to this ban, we must do so intellectually and on the basis of Islam even when calling on the wider Canadian society to stop this ban.
Last month, the Quebec government tabled Bill-94. According to the Canadian Press, the bill says that "people obtaining - or delivering - services at places like the health- or auto-insurance boards will need to do so with their faces in plain view". The bill has been widely reported as the "niqab ban". In a press conference regarding the bill, Jean Charest, the premier of the Province of Quebec, stated: "Two words: Uncovered face". He also defended the bill on the "principle of equality between men and women, and the religious neutrality of the state". The Canadian Press also reported that Salam Elmenyawi of the MCM questioned the need to legislate against such a small minority of the population. "It is a knee-jerk reaction to the opposition and vote-grabbing more than anything else".
Niqab Ban: Political Opportunism
This move by the Quebec government imitates that of France. In January of this year, France banned the wearing of the burka while receiving assistance from any public services such as hospitals, schools and public transportation. Charest's motives are being questioned and are being seen as political opportunism as only 10 people out of 118,000 visitors to the health board's Montreal office in 2008-09 wore the niqab. As noted in the Canadian press this is only 0.00009% of all cases!
Given the current economic crisis that is gripping the world, including the province of Quebec - whose gross debt is 50% of its GDP; the highest ratio of all the provinces - why is the government focused on a bill that targets hardly anyone?
With respect to political opportunism, the Globe and Mail reported that the ban granted Charest "his first round of positive press in a very long time" - referring to the political backlash he has received over "his handling of the ongoing debate in Quebec over the limits of reasonable accommodation". Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff, leader of the federal Liberal party, both have noted their support for the ban.
This race to the bottom is endemic in democratic countries. In Europe, politicians shifted to the right, in an effort to appease the racist shift in societal attitudes. In Denmark, during the 2002 elections, the right-wing Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People's Party) was distributing leaflets that had pictures of a young blonde girl with the byline: "By the time she retires there will be a Muslim majority in Denmark". Such a leaflet was designed to provoke fear about the Muslims - who only make up 2% of the population. As it turns out, the Danish political party, that was in power at the time of the printing of the cartoons insulting the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم, was dependent on Dansk Folkeparti for political survival. So is it any surprise that the Danish Prime Minister at the time (Anders Fogh Rasmussen) supported the printing of the insulting cartoons as a "necessary provocation"? This is the sad reality of democratic politics.
Fitnah: The Pressure to Abandon Islam
The other aspect of the niqab ban is to make Muslims compromise in their Deen. Commentators on the matter have taken issue with the Muslim sister because she refused to compromise. As Allah سبحانه وتعالى revealed:
وَدُّوا لَوْ تُدْهِنُ فَيُدْهِنُونَ
"They wish that you should compromise (in religion out of courtesy) with them, so they (too) would compromise with you." [Al-Qalam, 68:9]
Again, Quebec is not alone in this tactic of making Muslims compromise in their Deen. In France, the hijab is banned. In Ireland Muslim male applicants for post-nuptial citizenship have to sign a sworn affidavit that they will not take a second wife in the future. In Holland, predominantly Muslim immigrants must watch a video with scenes of nudity and homosexuality before they are granted citizenship.
Demonizing Muslims: Part of the War on Islam
Since 2001, the G8 Nations have increased their military presence in the Muslim world. Canada is assisting the American forces to occupy Afghanistan. The bans in Quebec, France, Holland, Belgium are a way of giving the impression that the customs of Muslims are so "backward" and that these nations have a "civilizational" duty to bring "enlightenment" to us. The problem for the Canadian Capitalist elite is about how to sell this war to the Canadian public - who pride themselves on their tradition as peace keepers. Canadian diplomat, Robert Fowler, noted this issue when he stated: "We are simply not prepared to foot the massive price in blood and treasure which it would take to effectively colonize Afghanistan ... and replace their culture with ours, for that seems to be what we seek."
What will be Banned Next?
The danger of the niqab ban is the precedence that it will set. As it has happened in Europe, the opportunistic politicians attack and create laws that limit one aspect of Islam, which leads them to become emboldened and even more aggressive in their attack on Islam and Muslims. For example, in Belgium politicians first banned hijabs in schools. Now the Belgian government is on its way to ban the burqa outright -meaning no Muslimah can wear the burqa anywhere in the country. Similarly, the French government first banned the hijab in government buildings and now they are trying to ban the burqa as well.
Consequently, Muslims must recognize that this bill is not simply about the face covering. It is an attack on Islam, which will set the stage for further restrictions on Muslim men and women. What will be next? Will the hijab and jilbab be banned? Will Muslims be told to shave their beards? Will we be prevented from praying in public places? If the opportunistic politicians succeed in banning the niqab under such pretenses, then they can justify similar legislation against the Islamic dress, the beard, and the salat.
As a result, all Muslim men and women should be concerned about this issue and intellectually express their disagreement with the bill.
Canadian Society: Moving towards Intolerance?
Although the niqab ban may bring political gains to the Liberal party in Quebec, it will do so at a great cost to the overall society in Quebec, and Canada. The Canadians pride themselves on having an open society, but with the passage of the bill we can expect greater tensions within society. As reported in the CBC, Fo Niemi, director of the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations, points out that the ban on the niqab not only has implications on Muslims, but also sets a precedent for all minorities. He noted "Today it is the niqab, tomorrow it could be the hijab the day after that it could be the Sikh turban ... and then afterwards ... how far we go? Will we even go to the point that we withdraw funding from the Jewish hospital or require that the Jewish hospital remove its Jewishness because the state shall not fund or support religious expression?"
How to raise this issue with the wider society?
As Muslims, we cannot be silent about this issue. Also, it is an issue that impacts the fabric of Canadian society: it is something that the wider Canadian society should be concerned about. So, how should we discuss the issue?
Most importantly, we must discuss this matter on the basis of Islam alone. It is wrong to discuss on the basis of freedom and human rights, as these ideas do not emanate from the Islamic Aqeedah. Furthermore, these same principles are the basis upon which attacks are launched against Islam. The printing of the cartoons that insulted RasulAllah صلى الله عليه وسلم or allowing right-wing personalities to speak at Canadian universities to spew out their hatred towards Muslims and Islam - are all justified by freedom of speech. As a result, when Muslims champion freedoms when it comes to issues to protect Islam and then call for its curtailment when it comes to attacking Islam - people may view this as contradictory and hypocritical. More importantly, the only Deen before Allah سبحانه وتعالى is Islam and not the "deen of freedom". Iraq and Afghanistan are justified in the name of freedom - what has it brought except ruin to the people? Senator Phil Graham, and the US congress, deregulated the banks in the name of freedom and they proceeded to destroy the world economy through the issuance of sub-prime backed bonds. The industries pollute the air, seas, and land in the name of free market. It is wrong, therefore, to call for these ideas and call for their implementation as Allah سبحانه وتعالى has prescribed Islam for humanity.
Following the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم in times of Difficulty
In these difficult times we should reflect on how RasulAllah صلى الله عليه وسلم taught the Sahabah (ra) to deal with such situations. RasulAllah صلى الله عليه وسلم allowed the Sahabah to immigrate to Abyssinia to live under the safety and hospitality of the ruler, an-Najashi. Once Quraish heard about this, they sent Amr ibn al-'As ibn Wa'il and ‘Abdullah ibn Rabi'ah to persuade an-Najashi to hand the Muslims back. Initially, they failed to convince him. However, the next day ‘Amr ibn al-'As went back to an-Najashi and said to him, "The Muslims say dreadful things about ‘Isa, son of Maryam, send for them and ask them about it." Jaafar ibn Abi Talib (ra) responded on behalf of the Muslims. Before examining his response, we must remember how severe the torture was upon the Sahabah (ra) in Makkah. For example, the mushrikeen of Quraish used to place hot coals on the back of Khabbab ibn Al-Aratt (ra) until he could smell his own fat burn. In other words, the risks were high: if Jaafar (ra) failed to convince the ruler of Absynnia, it would have meant that the Sahabah would be heading back to this type of severe oppression. So what did Jaafar say, when he was asked about Isa (as)? He said: "We say about him that which our Prophet brought, saying, he is the slave of Allah and His Messenger, and His spirit, and His word, which He cast into Maryam the blessed virgin." In other words, he (ra) answered based on what RasulAllah صلى الله عليه وسلم taught him. He clearly mentioned that Isa (as) was a slave of Allah سبحانه وتعالى - even though the Christians consider him, naouthubillah, the son of Allah سبحانه وتعالى. Also, the Sahabah refused to bow to An-Najashi, even though it was the custom of the society. Similarly, we must only answer based on what Islam says and not compromise on how we speak to the wider Canadian society.
In Jaafar's speech, Jaafar also told an-Najishi the following:
"When they treated us with violence and persecution, besieged us, and prevented us from performing our religion, we left for your country and chose you above all others. We desired your hospitality and hoped we would not be harmed in your domain, O King." [Ibn Ishaq]
The Muslim community, through Muslims organizations, associations and the Masajid, need to approach Canadian civil society, including unions, womens' organizations, and other groups who assist the oppressed, with the following message: targeting the Muslim community and its Deen is going to lead to the isolation of our community, increase the tensions between the different communities and undermine the reputation of Canada as a hospitable land. The consequences are dire and far reaching.
Ultimately, As long as we are not living under the shade of the Khilafah we will remain under the threat of a ban like the one in Quebec. Man made legislation is subject to the whims and contradictions of the human mind. May Allah سبحانه وتعالى protect us and enable us to practice our deen. Ameen.
فَإِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا
إِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا
"Verily, along with every hardship is relief, verily, along with hardship is relief." [Al-Inshira, 94:5-6]