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“It Has Nothing To Do With Neutrality”: Muslim Community Responds to Quebec’s Religious Neutrality Bill

The Lloydminster Muslim community is calling Quebec’s Religious Neutrality Bill “a target towards the minority.”

The bill was passed late last week and means anyone giving and receiving public services must do so with their faces uncovered. Those services include healthcare, transit, school and others. Some say this discriminates against Muslim women, including Imam Mansoor Azeem from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Lloydminster.

“It is not a government who should tell women what to do and what not to do and it is not us who should tell [women] what to do. It is their own choice and it is a law that is affecting their own choice. If a women wants to wear a burka or a niqab in the public why are you destroying her will or her choice to wear a niqab or a burka.”

According to the Imam, Islam teaches people to be modest all of the time, so men and women are asked to cover their heads. However, it is up to the women’s discretion whether she wants to cover more. People who are affected can apply for court-ordered religious accommodation but the criteria hasn’t been determined yet.

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“I don’t think it’s a very effective law. What’s the point of making a law if you can say you can have some accommodations? People can ask for accommodations, what is the point of making a law and only targeting the minority Muslim women. I don’t think it’s what the Quebec province should be doing, Quebec has more important things to do,” says Azeem.

He goes on to say, “the Government of Quebec, right now, is imposing that women should unveil their faces to get public services. It is like begging to get onto the bus or begging to borrow a book, to unveil their face, to go against their religion, to go against their culture. I don’t think this is how it works in the charter and the human rights commission.”

The Imam says they will try to challenge it in court.

“We believe that it has nothing to do with neutrality. It is just a target to us. There is a lot of Islamophobia around the world right now. Only a few people are causing the acts and then the whole Muslim community, which is 1.6 billion [people] around the world, are getting targeted.”

Quebec is the first place in North America to ban religious face coverings for public services.

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