Montreal’s Muslim community ‘disappointed’ as Quebec court upholds Bill 21

“Disappointing,” says Idil Issa, founder of Muslim women against racism and Islamophobia (FEMCOR) as the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday that Bill 21 is constitutional. Swidda Rassy reports.

By Swidda Rassy

As the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday that Bill 21, the province’s secularism law, is constitutional, members of Montreal’s Muslim community are disappointed by the decision with some saying it’s unconstitutional and further enforces Islamophobia.

The 2019 law declares the province is a secular state and includes a provision prohibiting public sector workers in positions of authority — including teachers, judges, and police officers — from wearing religious symbols on the job.

“We all know Bill 21 disproportionally affects Muslim women. I believe it’s Islamophobic in nature,” said Fatima Ahmad, a Montreal woman who wears the niqab.

“This outcome is a slap in the face, really. I don’t feel like I used to before. I don’t feel like I’m part of the society. I feel like I’m being sidelined because of this law.”

Ahmad who was born and raised in Quebec says she was physically attacked three times since she started wearing the niqab.

“I started wearing the niqab in 2016. In 2017, I was attacked for the first time and then in 2018 and 2020, just when the pandemic started,” said Ahmad.

“There’s a lot of bad memories when I think of what happened in the past,” said Ahmad.

Ahmad studied to become an elementary school teacher in Quebec. She holds a Masters of Education in Educational Psychology at McGill University, but has not been able to teach at a public school due to Bill 21.

“I have limited options,” said Ahmad.

Idil Issa, founder of the Muslim women against racism and Islamophobia – who also spoke at hearings at Quebec’s National Assembly in 2019 about Bill 21 – says the ruling sends a certain kind of message.

“One unfortunate message and inaccurate message which I think it sends is that what we call here the ‘vivre ensemble’ the ability to live together, that that can only be insured by damaging or infringing upon the constitutional rights of certain citizens or certain religious minorities,” said Issa.

Issa also says she’s disappointed by the lack of action on the federal level.

“I know now finally that the federal government says they will intervene if this case goes to the supreme court but it’s almost like a day late and a dollar short. This has been going on since 2019 and it’s already 2024.”

“It’s also sending a message to the next generation of youth that what they’re wearing on their heads is not acceptable because of what they believe in,” said Ahmad.

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