Students defend right to wear niqab

Humber student Sara Salman, above, says upcoming Canadian citizens should be allowed to wear the niqab during the swearing-in ceremony.(Photo: Natalie Dixon) Humber student Sara Salman, above, says upcoming Canadian citizens should be allowed to wear the niqab during the swearing-in ceremony.(Photo: Natalie Dixon)

Natalie Dixon
Life Reporter

“One’s beliefs can’t be a barrier to citizenship.”

Pradeep Mahendrarajah, 36, a second year business accounting Humber student said Canada advertises itself to the world as a place of freedom, and that includes religious freedom with their Canadian citizenship.

If that means a woman wants to wear a niqab during her citizenship swearing in, then so be it, he said.

It was an issue that at times superseded other issues in the federal election when the federal court dismissed the appeal over a woman’s right to wear her niqab during her swearing in ceremony.

Zunera Ishaq wanted to wear the Muslim face covering during her swearing in ceremony and was told she could not, based on the 2011 niqab policy introduced by the Conservative government.

Harper threw gasoline on the issue during the French-language leaders’ debate on Sept. 24 by making his stance on the niqab very clear – he wanted a ban during a citizenship ceremony.

The niqab may have had a role in the crushing defeat of the Conservatives in Monday’s election. The Liberals swept into power with a majority government.

“I wouldn’t say it is wrong to wear it. Every religion has certain rules. She’s obeying her religion,” Mahendrarajah said.

Mahendrarajah is British and said when he became a citizen there religion wasn’t discussed, but rather he just had to write an exam and attend a ceremony.

He said the debate in Canada is more an issue of discrimination than an issue of securing identity and it discourages people from coming here.

Josh Alleyne, 20 and a third year accounting student, said prospective Canadian citizens should be allowed to wear the niqab because we are a multicultural nation.

“It’s not obviously offensive, it’s just in their culture,” Alleyne said.

Taha Ali, president of the Muslim Students Association of the Humber Students’ Federation, said the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is what Canada’s freedom is based on. Canada does a lot to protect a person’s rights, he says, but people need to be more informed on the issue.

“People are often afraid of the unknown,” Ali said. “And we cannot allow decisions to be made regarding fellow citizens based on fear or lack of education.”

He also said the debate is centered on what it means to be a Canadian rather than issues of discrimination or security. Ali said wearing a niqab is showing just what Canada stands for – freedom, independence, diversity and tolerance.

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