Opinion: As an imam in Quebec, I hold out hope for the repeal of Bill 21

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As a Muslim residing in Quebec, I am profoundly saddened that the Quebec Court of Appeal upheld the province’s secularism law (Bill 21), which prohibits certain civil servants from wearing religious symbols on the job.

Quebec is renowned for its quality of life, where individuals are nurtured and enjoy a comfortable existence. However, I believe this legislation is a stain on its reputation.

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Currently serving as an imam for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at in Quebec, I regularly interact with numerous Muslims across the province. In my perspective, such rulings and declarations convey a clear message of discrimination, particularly when sanctioned by the state.

Indeed, in my view, this law contradicts the very essence of secularism. A secular state should remain impartial, refraining from favouring any religion. However, it should not impede individuals’ right to practise their religion. For instance, prohibiting Muslim women from wearing the hijab as civil servants effectively denies them the opportunity to observe their faith freely. Consequently, many are compelled to compromise their beliefs, fostering a negative perception of Quebec.

In this context, Quebec could benefit from observing other provinces where the government maintains complete neutrality toward religion while still allowing individuals to freely express themselves. Objectively speaking, this approach presents a fairer and more equitable system compared to Quebec’s current stance.

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Furthermore, such a stance contradicts fundamental human rights. As a nation, we take pride in our progressive values and our leadership in championing human rights causes. While Quebec undeniably excels in many aspects of governance and care for its residents, discriminating against individuals who wish to publicly express their faith runs counter to our core principles. It conveys a message of intolerance and cruelty toward a specific segment of society.

Drawing from my personal experience as an imam, I can attest that such policies are detrimental to both the state and society. They foster an atmosphere where individuals feel ostracized for adhering to their faith. I am genuinely surprised by Bill 21’s evident discrimination, considering the progressive reputation we strive to uphold.

As for the argument that a person who chooses to wear religious symbols can just as easily choose not to at work, I find this line of reasoning flawed.

Based on my extensive personal interactions with thousands of individuals practising Islam and other faiths, I can attest that religious attire is not merely a matter of choice. For many Muslim women, wearing the hijab is deeply intertwined with their identity and sense of obligation toward their faith. To suggest that they could easily forsake this practice and comply with Quebec’s law is a grave misunderstanding.

These individuals are confronted with two difficult choices. They must either prioritize their religious beliefs and abstain from pursuing such employment opportunities, or they find themselves compelled to compromise their values.

My hope is that as more Quebecers become aware of the hardships endured by those affected by Bill 21, they will speak out against it. This grassroots activism is what will ultimately lead to the repeal of this law. At least, that is my hope.

Luqman Ahmed is an imam with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at of Canada. He lives in Brossard.

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