Canadian Muslims have criticized a decision by the Quebec election commission to ban Muslim women wearing the niqab (face veil) from voting in the upcoming general elections, calling the move unnecessary and provocative, reported The New York Times on Saturday, March 24.
"I doubt many of these women will show up at the polls on Monday after all this mockery," said Sarah Elgazzar of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"I am so saddened," she added.
On Friday, March 23, Quebec election chief Marcel Blanchet said that face-veiled Muslim women must take off their veil if they want to vote in Monday's elections.
''Relevant articles to electoral laws were modified to add the following: any person showing up at a polling station must be uncovered to exercise the right to vote,'' he said.
Blanchet's decision was a reversal from an earlier one allowing face-veiled Muslim women to vote if they signed a sworn statement and showed identification when they vote.
But that decision drew diatribe from Quebec politicians and residents.
The Quebec election office had received death threats and threatening e-mails, forcing Blanchet to get two bodyguards for safety.
Last week in Quebec, a young Muslim woman was forced to quit her job at a prison after refusing to take off her hijab.
The public security department cited security concerns for the decision but Muslims stressed that the Canadian Armed Forces allow women to wear headscarves on active duty.
Last month, an 11-year-old Muslim girl was ejected from a soccer tournament for refusing the referee's request to remove her hijab, prompting a solidarity protest from her teammates and coach.
Quebec Muslims said that the issue of niqab has been blown out of proportion, arguing that the ban on niqab was unnecessary and provocative.
"People are usually scared of what they don't know," Shama Naz, a 30-year-old face-veiled woman, told the Canadian Globe and Mail website Saturday.
"A lack of information is driving regulations like this."
Naz said that Muslim women routinely take off their veil for security issues.
"It's common sense," noted Naz.
"Muslim women have no problem identifying themselves for security reasons."
Naz said that she has taken off her veil for Medicare card photo and removed it each time she crosses the border to visit her father in New York.
"If [elections officials] had spoken to me they would have known I wouldn't mind identifying myself at the ballot box," she said.
The niqab issue came to the fore after Britain's House of Commons leader and former foreign secretary Jack Straw called on Muslim women to take off their niqab if they wanted to meet him at his office to listen to their complaints.
A Muslim teacher in northern England has been sacked for refusing to take off her niqab.
The Netherlands has also announced plans to ban niqab in public places.
Muslims activists had expressed fears that Straw's comments might be a prelude to a wide-scale European ban on niqab in state bodies like hijab.
France triggered a controversy in 2004 by adopting a bill banning hijab and religious insignia in state schools. Many European countries have followed suit.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
As for the face veil, the majority of Muslim scholars believe that a woman is not obliged to cover her face or hands.