Often, in discussions about religious accommodations, there is the underlining assumption that each of the parties involved hold little in common with one another.
This assumption, while being the conventional way of thinking, is just plain false.
This past week, in Quebec, a 15-year-old Canadian who happens to be Muslim and wears a hijab (a Muslim headscarf) was told she could no longer referee because her uniform did not comply with FIFA rules and conduct.
I am of two minds on this story:
To begin, I have played organized soccer at varying levels for most of my young life. I understand the need for a set of rules that is applied equally to each player on the field. This is a fair method of ensuring that each individual is treated fairly and is kept safe for the entire 90 minutes.
On page 20 of the FIFA rules, written by the governing body that presides over internationally-recognized soccer events and leagues states: “Players must not reveal undergarments showing slogans or advertising. The basic compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal statements.” <rules>
These rules seem adequate and they do serve a purpose. However, my issue with this story is not necessarily the rules themselves – although I believe they could and should be amended to correct instances like this as well. My issue is with the consequence of this decision and the idea that it promotes.
That idea is the faulty opinion that differences cannot coexist – or at least certain “differences” cannot.
What the president of the Quebec Soccer Federation (and FIFA indirectly) is effectively saying is that Quebec, Canada, and the soccer world is incapable of finding an appropriate compromise between safety and protocol and religious accommodations.
So, let’s break this down: a Canadian teenager with a Muslim background has made the brave decision to be true to her multiple identities and “the system” is restricting her from being a model of what successful pluralism looks like.
This teenager is exhibiting all the signs of a well-integrated child of (Canadian) multiculturalism. She is graciously contributing to her community, has decided to join the Canadian workforce (albeit it is only a summer job), is remaining true to her faith, and is carving out the healthy and powerful message that organized sport can be a place for Muslim girls.
This Quebec teenager is not asking for the world of soccer to be drastically altered. She’s not asking for Quranic scripts to be read aloud before the match gets under way. She is simply attempting to integrate into the social fabric of her country by becoming part of the global soccer family.
Her efforts should be applauded.
At the root of this story, and so many others like it, there is often an individual (group of individuals) of minority status knocking at the door of the majority, and asking: please let me in.
These stories include nations restricting access to public institutions such as hospitals, schools, and day care centres simply because they are deemed to be different.
These stories encourage the creation of fragmented citizenship, where only “genuine citizens” who act, dress, and worship in similar ways are afforded the privilege of using and enjoying free, open and public spaces.
These stories also include an endorsement of a flawed sense of secularism – where the separation between God and State is required for all, unless your religion is deemed adequate and more peaceful than the others.
There is a dangerous trend that is currently taking place across countries in the West, all of which is leading us all to more guarded, closed, and unwelcoming realities for newcomers and citizens alike.
Banning individuals from participating in society is not an indication of a flourishing democracy. In fact, it often means the opposite.
Successful societies are those whose policies are fluid, yet anchored on principles of mutual respect, rights, and responsibilities.
This young Canadian deserves much better.