CAIRO - New rules requiring Muslim women to remove their full face veil or niqab while they take the oath of Canadian citizenship were widely criticized as forcing them to choose between their religious convictions and adopting Canadian citizenship.
It was really depressing to hear this news, Zaheera Tariq, president of the Islamic Association of Canadian Women, told Calgary Herald on Tuesday, December 13.
If a woman wants citizenship she must take off her niqab but if she takes off her niqab, she is violating her beliefs.
Tariq, a South African-born mother of three, still recalls with pride the happy and joyful day she became a Canadian citizen.
Preserving those feeling for years, she was shocked to hear the news about new rules to force Muslim women who don a face-covering, like the niqab, to remove it before taking the oath of citizenship.
These rules were announced on Monday, December 12, by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, a Calgary MP.
Kenney said the move follows complaints from citizenship judges, MPs and others who've participated in citizenship ceremonies and said it's hard to tell whether veiled individuals are actually reciting the oath.
Requiring that all candidates show their faces while reciting the oath allows judges, and everyone present to share in the ceremony, to ensure that all citizenship candidates are, in fact, taking the oath as required by law, he said.
This is not simply a practical measure, it is a matter of deep principle that goes to the heart of our identity and our values of openness and equality.
Though Tariq herself wears the hijab, a head scarf which doesn't hide the face, she supports women who make the choice to wear full face niqab.
When I go outdoors I don't care if I'm in a bikini or a burka because in Canada I'm free to do what I want, as long as (it's) not against the law, said Tariq.
I think we should just honor and respect each other's choices.
Muslims make around 1.9 percent of Canada's 32.8 million population, and Islam is the number one non-Christian faith in the Roman Catholic country.
While hijab is an obligatory code of dress for Muslim women, the majority of Muslim scholars agree that a woman is not obliged to wear the face veil, or niqab, but believe that it is up to women to decide whether to cover her face.
The new rules were also criticized by the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN), accusing the Conservative government of basing harmful policy on unreliable evidence.
This decision will have a damaging effect on our democracy because it forces those who wear the niqab to choose between their religious convictions and adopting Canadian citizenship, CAIR-CAN's acting executive director Ihsaan Gardee said in a news release cited by Toronto Star on Tuesday.
The hot issue about niqab was raised last week at the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of a female complaint who wants to testify against male relatives in a sexual assault case while wearing the niqab.
David Butt, the lawyer representing the unnamed woman, said that other methods could have been used by the judge at the swearing in ceremony to confirm that the veiled woman was taking the oath such as a microphone.
He also suggested that a private check of documents in the presence of a female official would be enough to verify the identity of the applicant.
What you have is simply an announcement that a government is going to interfere with a Charter-protected right without even anything coming close to a valid reason, Butt said.
Reasonable accommodations for Muslim women donning niqab were also urged by Calgary Imam Fayaz Tilly, Calgary Herald reported.
The imam suggested that Muslim women be allowed to take the oath in a more private setting.
There's always a way around that would allow them to (take the oath) within parameters which would still allow a Muslim, or a Sikh, Hindu or Christian to observe their religious practices, said Tilly.