Muslim Girl Sparks Canada Hijab Dispute

Guardian (Manchester), Feb. 27, 2007

An 11-year-old Muslim girl was ejected from a soccer game for refusing to take off her hijab, reigniting Quebec’s debate over reasonable accommodation for minorities and even prompting comments from Premier Jean Charest.

Quebec’s soccer federation said Asmahan Mansour of Ottawa was given the choice of taking off her hijab or not playing in a Sunday tournament in nearby Laval. It says the hijab—an Islamic veil or head scarf—violated a no-headgear rule set down by the sport’s governing body for safety reasons.

But others have slammed the referee’s decision, saying it’s just another example of how Quebec is trying to get immigrants to toe a cultural line.

Maria Mansour, the girl’s mother, told CBC Radio that she thought the incident was racially motivated.

“Strongly, I do think so, because soccer is soccer whether it’s in Ontario or Quebec or Europe and it’s not right at all to not allow a Muslim girl who’s proud of her religion to play soccer, a sport she loves so much,” Mansour said.

“It took a lot out of me to see my daughter in the middle being humiliated in front of a lot of people,” she said.

The Quebec Soccer Federation noted the referee was also a Muslim.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest, himself a one-time soccer player, weighed in on the issue Monday.

“My understanding is that the referee applied the rules of the soccer federation and that’s why that decision was made,” Charest said.

The Muslim Council of Montreal said the Ontario Soccer Association allows players to wear religious clothing on the field and urged the Quebec federation to respect the religious rights of its players.

“Asking minority groups to integrate cannot be equated with forcing them to assimilate and stripping them of their identity and rights,” said council spokesman Salam Elmenyawi.

The council also criticized Charest, saying he failed to address the issue properly.

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