Elham Asaad Buaras
Two non-Muslim professors are wearing the hijab to work to protest against the Parti Québécois’ (PQ) secular charter and its proposed ban on religious symbols for teachers, daycare workers and other public sector employees.
Bill 60, introduced on November 7, includes contentious provisions to ban hijab, kippas and turbans in the workplace for public servants, including daycare workers, doctors and senior bureaucrats.
But the draft legislation contains elements not included in the September outline that would force the dress code on private contractors and publicly subsidized businesses and it severely curtails promised opt-out provisions for cities and educational institutions. It even covers the food that daycares serve, banning the use of halal or kosher foods to advance a “religious precept.”
Concordia University History Professor Nora Jaffary is still wearing the hijab to the campus, while McGill University Political Science Professor Catherine Lu wore the hijab for a week in September to initiate debate in her lecture.
Jaffary says that for many Muslim women in Quebec, wearing the hijab is their own choice, and not something that is forced on them by parents or husbands.
She says the proposed ban would single out Muslim women in Quebec.
Speaking to The Muslim News Jaffary explained why she felt the need to wear the hijab.
“I am a public sector worker. Bill 60 restricts public sector workers from wearing: “objects such as headgear, clothing, jewelry or other adornments which, by their conspicuous nature, overtly indicate a religious affiliation.” I see this as a violation of the rights of freedom of religion and freedom of expression that are protected by both the Canadian (federal) and Québec (provincial) Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I also see it as a violation of academic freedom which is a right upheld in the Collective Agreement of the Union to which I, as a professor at ConcordiaUniversity, belong.”
“I chose a hijab because since the PQ opened discussion of the Charter, Muslim women, in particular, have experienced instances of increased hostility in Québec. I wear it not because I am interested in becoming a Muslim myself, but because I am distressed that women have been the targets of such hostility in this particular political and social climate and I wish to communicate my solidarity with them in particular. ”
“I wear it in the hope of encouraging others to defy the Charter in a similar way: By wearing hijabs, crosses, kippas, turbans, or any other overt indications of religious affiliation because if a sizable portion of the population are wearing such signs, I believe the Charter will become impossible to implement.”
Jaffary says she has received “overwhelmingly positive” response to the media coverage about her decision to support Muslim women’s right to wear the hijab. However, she conceded that “proportionately small number of negative reactions from the non-Muslim community, where some people have charged me with being an anti-feminist but this is not a charge that I feel particularly vulnerable about. I define myself, in my personal, political, and scholarly life as a feminist. I have devoted my intellectual life, for the past two decades, to the study of gender history.”
Professor Catherine Lu told The Muslim News that she, along with her colleague at the University of Montreal, Marie-Joelle Zahar, “thought that wearing conspicuous religious symbols would be one way to get the protest and discussion going.”
She added, “To me, it’s a matter of justice, because I consider the restrictions on religious dress to be a violation of fundamental individual rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion, and to be inherently discriminatory in their application, given that not all religious groups will be equally affected by the restrictions. So I wanted to do something to express my solidarity with the vulnerable minorities that would be subject to discrimination and violations of their fundamental rights.”