Home > Islam, Society > Muslim women and Hérouxville

Muslim women and Hérouxville

As someone profoundly indifferent to matters of faith, I have little interest in people’s religious beliefs. What raises my hackles is having people push their faith and its edicts on me. A while back, the small municipality of Hérouxville in Québec, Canada, made international headlines with a “code of behavior” for immigrants (practically nonexistent in the tiny town). Among other things, the code –absurd but understandable given the influx of Muslim immigrants sometimes expecting that sharia rather than Canadian law apply in their community — ruled that accommodation of prayer in school would not be permitted (hurray for that!) but neither would stoning women, burning them alive, or submitting them to excision. The wording, rightfully deemed racist and insulting to Muslims, was revised when a delegation of Muslim women came to town to explain their position. Following which, a Christian grandmother from Québec wrote the following text which I have translated from the French and somewhat shortened.

”I would have liked to meet the Muslim women who came to Hérouxville to hear about their culture but mainly to tell them what I remember about our own situation. It was only a few years before my birth that women received the right to vote and were considered full-fledged citizens in our society. When I was young, we couldn’t go to church with our head uncovered. Eating meat on Friday was a deadly sin. We fasted before Christmas and during Lent. My mother was no longer admitted to church because she wanted no more children after having borne four. She would only be allowed back if she continued to pleasure her husband without using contraception. When her cousin got a divorce from her husband, the Vatican excommunicated her. When I was young, we too, like Muslims, had to pray several times a day. We attended Mass every morning. We had to wear black up to a year in mourning for relatives. My mother and my mother-in-law both had to wait for emergency surgery to be performed while permission was secured from their respective husbands from which they were separated at the time.

When I became adult, I was allowed contraception, thanks to the efforts of generations before mine. Eating meat on Fridays was no longer a sin. I could work in professions previously reserved for men but I was frustrated by not being men’s equal, either in my place of work or in society in general. After having a son, I wanted no more children, afraid to have daughters as their life would prove more difficult than men’s. Women worked hard to obtain equal rights. It took us forty years to get rid of the Church’s rigid dogma and sixty years to obtain equal pay. Much work still needs to be done.

I am no racist, yet it scares me to see other ethnicities, controlled by their religion, wanting a say in our society. I am scared because these men and women aren’t aware of the difficult road we’ve traveled. I’m scared because the young women from Québec who embrace a religion that makes women cover their heads don’t remember. Their choice comes from ignorance. I now have four lovely grand-daughers. When I see teachers with headscarves in our schools, I’m scared. We have gotten rid of all these religious symbols and here they are, back in the very environment where the education of future generations takes place, where our children are taught the principles of life in a free society. Tolerating headscarves or other symbols is a lack of respect for the previous generations. You don’t remember, I do. Out of respect for my mother, my aunt, and my grand-daughters, I have no tolerance and want no accommodation. The chart of rights and liberties allows each individual to practice their faith of choice but please keep it in the family. For us, the Muslim women’s veil is a glaring demonstration of women’s submission; that scares us and shocks us because we remember. With the changes in our society, religious communities have followed the evolution by growing more secular. Without being forced to, nuns swapped their long dresses and their veils for civilian clothes, which didn’t mean they renounced their faith or no longer prayed. Some of these women are still living. Should we tell them that they shouldn’t have evolved and that the efforts they made will soon be forgotten?

Whether one prays to Jesus, Allah or Buddha isn’t important but we in Québec have fought and struggled for a secular society and equal rights for men and women. Please remember that if you have emigrated to Canada, it was in order to belong to an open society that hands you on a silver platter the rights obtained in previous generations. It may be through ignorance of our history and not through lack of respect that Muslim women want to impose the veil as symbol of their religion. Integration into a society begins with respect of its traditions and customs. It would be only right for immigrants to understand that it is not racism to remember the past and to refuse to see the younger generation revert back fifty years.”

  1. afsaneh
    January 19, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    C’est tellement simple, et tellement vrai.


  2. MB
    January 19, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    That is an amazing piece of writing from the grandmother in Quebec. God bless her. Thank you for finding this, translating it and sharing it.


  3. January 19, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    And I haven’t even put up half. It is simple, to the point, not insulting anyone, just a history check!


  4. Ed Levy
    January 22, 2012 at 5:24 am

    Great post!


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