Choosing between religion and justice in a Canadian court

Faraz Talat

Rania El-Alloul says she was told by a Quebec judge to remove her headscarf immediately or apply for a postponement in order to consult a lawyer. —Photo courtesy of The National Post/Christinne Muschi

Rania El-Alloul went to a courtroom in Montreal to get her car back after it was seized by the automobile insurance board, but the judge refused to hear the case because Rania wore a hijab. By no stretch of secular imagination, can such blatant anti-Muslim bigotry be excused.
For transparency’s sake, let me confess my position as a staunch supporter of the separation of religion from state affairs, as well as a feminist who does not agree with the reasons for hijab. However, I am outraged by this incident in Montreal, not in spite of wearing these titles with pride, but because I do so.
I recognise both a woman’s legal right to wear what she wills, and a private citizens’ right to religious self-expression, as long as no hazard is posed to others.
So far, science has not established a link between passive hijab visualisation and retinal cancer among on-lookers, which is why I’m less keen on forcing the garment’s disappearance.
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Rania had to visit the courthouse after the police stopped her son for driving with a suspended license, and had the car seized by the SAAQ, Quebec’s automobile insurance board. The board normally keeps the vehicle for a month, but as Rania’s livelihood depended on her vehicle, she needed to appear before a judge to make a formal request for early release.
What happened next made Rania feel that she was “not Canadian anymore”.
The judge ordered the Muslim woman to remove her hijab, deeming it “inappropriate” attire for the courtroom. Stressing the need to not have religious symbols in the room, and adding that she’d ask the same from people wearing large hats and sunglasses, she told Rania to come back later with a lawyer; something that Rania clearly couldn’t afford.
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Let’s crunch this masquerade, dealing with one bad argument at a time.
The understanding that Quebec courtrooms don’t permit religious symbols, makes me wonder how many Jewish men have been forced to remove their kippahs or yarmulkes before setting foot in these unhallowed halls of secularism.
Let it be known that my sympathy for the woman doesn’t stem from her ‘Muslim’ label. I would complain just as ardently had it been a Sikh man in a turban.
The idea that secularism necessitates such action is ludicrous. Secularism is not about living in a country where religion is made entirely invisible, and we go about pretending to be atheists. It costs Canadian taxpayer no extra dollar to let a Christian woman wear a cross necklace in a courtroom.
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Although there could be reasonable restrictions on government employees to not wear religious symbols, to avoid projecting an image of the establishment being dominated by a certain religion; private citizens must be able to express their beliefs as they see fit.
Secondly, a hijab is not comparable to an overbearing hat, or large sunglasses, both of which may conceal a person’s face. Although it might be acceptable to ask a woman to remove her face-veil (at least long enough for the judge to verify her), a hijab does absolutely nothing to hide a woman’s identity.
Unless one is suggesting that women of Rania’s ethnicity look so alike, they are completely indistinguishable without added visual cues in the form of hair style or color, one could dismiss this as nonsensical argument.
This is not a stand for secularism, and the judge needn’t be lauded for standing her ground for the law against the unthinking forces of political correctness. Not for a minute should this incident be confused for anything other than anti-Muslim bigotry, and must be vehemently condemned as such.