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Mother considers teachers in hijabs a threat

Concerned over 'bath of cultures'. Accommodation hearings continue in Laval



The Gazette
Thursday, November 15, 2007

Reminding them of the Christian name of where they were - on Île Jésus - a young mother yesterday urged the chairmen of Quebec's "reasonable accommodations" commission not to forget their Roman Catholic heritage.

Geneviève April also had a warning for Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor: Don't promote the rise of Islam in Quebec, because it will erode the identity of young French Canadians like her two children, who are exposed to it at school and daycare.

"As a mother, I'm very worried," said April, 30, whose young son attends a multi-ethnic school that is 70-per-cent allophone and where the pupils are of 45 nationalities.

"Children are sponges, and if my children are taught by someone (who is Muslim), they'll start asking themselves who they are," said April, the first of two dozen people who addressed the commission yesterday in Laval.

"And since I'm trying to be open with them, they risk being influenced by someone with a stronger religious identity who's with them all day," she said.

Teachers and daycare workers in hijabs, for example, are a threat, because "children trust the people looking after them, and (wearing the hijab) is practically a kind of subversion, and I think that's deplorable and shouldn't be accepted."

Bouchard, a veteran historian and sociologist who grew up Catholic in Chicoutimi, asked April whether it's OK for parents to transmit their religion to their children.

Absolutely, she replied, but "I don't want Muslim parents transmitting their religion to my children."

"Culture and religion are interrelated," and whereas Islam has no roots here, "Quebec culture is completely filled with allusions to the Catholic religion," she said, noting that the Highway 15 hotel where the Laval hearings are being held sits on Île Jésus.

At his multi-ethnic school, her son is "in a bath of cultures, and his identity will be put to the test," April said.

If his teacher wears a hijab and many of his classmates are Muslims, her son may one day decide to become Muslim himself, "just to be like his friends, and I wouldn't like that," April said.

"That's why you'd like hijabs to be banned in schools?" Bouchard asked.

"Yes," April replied.

Home to 377,000 people - 15 per cent of them born outside of Canada - Laval is the third-most-populous municipality in Quebec after Montreal and Quebec City. Overwhelmingly francophone and Roman Catholic, it also has lots of allophones of different faiths, including about 10,000 Muslims.

That mix has caused some friction between old Catholic traditions and new Muslim demands. A year ago, the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal ordered Laval to stop a 40-year tradition of opening its monthly council meetings with a brief prayer. And last February, a Quebec soccer referee sent off an Ontario girl during a tournament in Laval after she refused to remove her hijab.

Yesterday, Muslims from Syria, Senegal, Egypt and Morocco spoke in the name of what several called "the silent majority of moderate Muslims" whose "universal values" include loving one's neighbour, accepting diversity and treating women equally.

"We have to stay vigilant against all kinds of extremism," including that of "ideological" Muslims who would use tribunes like the commission's to spread "propaganda," said Pierrefonds resident Abdesselam Mejlaoui, who is originally from Morocco.

"No one should force a woman to wear the hijab, but no one has the right to remove it, either," said Mohammed Chraibi, a chemical engineer and Montreal North imam who's part of an interfaith group of Muslims, Catholics and Protestants.

But the Muslims' detractors were also keen to be heard yesterday.

Two brothers-in-law married to Mexicans got into an argument with Bouchard when they insisted that "Latinos and Haitians and Asians" know how to be part of "the Quebec melting pot," but not "a large number of Muslims," who "live in ghettos" and are prevented from marrying outside their religion.

- - -

Hospital staff trained to consider ethnic requests

What should a hospital do when one of its medical staff wants to wear the hijab - the Muslim headscarf - in the operating room?

Three years ago, the Cité de la santé de Laval faced that demand from an intern in inhalation therapy and decided to deny the request, its director-general told the Bouchard-Taylor commission yesterday.

"The answer was no, for reasons of the prevention of infections," said Luc Lepage, head of the Centre de santé et de services sociaux de Laval, which includes the hospital and four community health centres in Quebec's third-most-populous city.

Far more common are demands for "reasonable accommodations" by patients, he added. The centre's full-time ethicist polled 100 staffers this year to see how many had received requests from patients, and 38 had.

Most common are requests for someone who speaks their language, someone who is their gender, and for their religious customs and holidays to be respected.

Staff are trained to consider the requests on the basis of their effect on hygiene, on how much they cost and whether they infringe the rights of other patients.

Some female patients insist on being tended to by females, whether that be an orderly, a nurse, a technician or a doctor, Lepage said. Usually, the hospital says it will try to provide a female doctor. But it won't look for female staffers in the other categories.

"I can't reserve female personnel throughout the hospital," Lepage said.

Jeff Heinrich

© The Gazette (Montreal) 2007

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