Montreal Gazette

I hold out hope for the repeal of Bill 21

As an imam, I can attest such a law is detrimenta­l, Luqman Ahmed says.

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

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.

Currently serving as an imam for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at in Quebec, I regularly interact with 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. This approach presents a fairer and more equitable system compared with Quebec's current stance.

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 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.

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