Religious tolerance in jeopardy in Quebec

Islam in Quebec

A new law makes it illegal for anyone working in the public sphere to wear religious symbols or clothing.
Published: May 30, 2019 | Updated: June 19th, 2019 at 11:53 am

Teachers, police officers and government workers often serve as role models for youth, as symbols of societal order and as people to turn to when seeking help.

In Quebec, the French-speaking province of Canada that often fights for sovereignty from the rest of the nation, a new law makes it illegal for people working those and other public jobs to express themselves with any religious symbols or clothing. That includes Christian crosses, turbans worn by Sikhs, the hijab worn by some Muslim women and the kippah, or yarmulke, worn by some Jews.

Quebec Mosque
Every Friday, Muslims in Quebec and elsewhere gather to participate in the ṣalāt al-jumu‘ah, meaning Friday prayer.
Quebec Borderlines Mosque
At the Outaouais Islamic Center in Gatinaeu, Quebec, the congregation is diverse in profession, background and age. Here a Kuwaiti man prays inside the mosque.
A man studies the Quran amidst the congregation. The Quran is the main holy scripture of Islam.

The proposed law stems from a French statute called “la laïcité.” This phrase is often translated into a meaning similar to “secularism.” The law was first passed in 1905 in a bid to limit the Catholic clergy’s extensive influence over French society. Today, though, the law is used to severely limit religious expression in public spaces.

 

Heavily influenced by French culture, the same impulse is starting to take root in Quebec. In October 2017, Quebec lawmakers passed Bill 62, which prevented anyone from using public services while covering their faces. This was seen as a direct response to Muslim women wearing face coverings such as the Burka or the Niqab.

Quebec Borderlines Mosque

In March 2019, the Québécois political group Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) proposed “The Secularism Bill,” which passed into law June 16 by a 73-35 vote. It further limits what individuals can wear when in the public sphere. Instead of just focusing on face coverings, it focuses on religious symbols of any kind, including crosses and stars of David, for instance.

Amidst the turmoil caused by these new and proposed laws, the Muslim community in Gatineau – one of the smallest in all of Canada – remains devout.

Editor’s Note: This story, first published May 30, 2019, before the Bill 21 vote, has been updated to reflect the law’s passage.

Quebec Borderlines Mosque
Devout congregation members remain in the mosque following the call to prayer.
Avatar for Doug Steinman

is a graduate student at the S.I Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and is the Visual Lead Producer for The NewsHouse.