Speech delivered at Millennium Scholarship Foundation's fourth conference held
September 17th 2004
I am pleased to be among you today. My
focus is on the division of religion and the state.
I have divided my discussion into the
following parts. First I will very briefly
talk about the characterizes of a civil society. Then I will
concentrate on the conflict between
culture, 'minority rights' and the rights of individuals in society. I will also
consider the role of
and cultural relativism as an obstacle for the achievement of the separation of religion
from the state. I will conclude with a case study that demonstrates the difference
between the life of an individual in a secular and one in a non -secular society.
of a civil/secular society:
A civil society is based on the concept of the equal and universal rights of all citizens. My aim is to prove that a civil
society can only stay civil if religion and religious practices remain private matters.
That, of course, would be the precondition of a freer society.
In a civil/ Secular
society, when we talk about the separation of religion from the state, we mean the
separation of all religions from all laws and regulations, from education, from the judicial system, from employment and
even from our official calendars. We
mean removing all forms of religious reference to marriage in official registration and
documentation. We mean the removal of any reference to anyone's religion in the law,
identity papers and official documents. We mean the removal of any religious
manifestation of the religious affiliation of an individual who is in public office. We
mean the removal of all laws, which support the segregation of males and females in all
aspects of society, including public institutions, assemblies and
But, the achievement of a secular
society has never been easy. In the past decades
it has become even harder. Culture and religion have become a primary issue dictating people's lives.
Culture became more important than equality,
more important than the rights of the individual; more important than women's rights and children's rights.
In the past decades we witnessed the growth
of cultural relativism and multi-culturalism through the tacit approval of political and financial
support provided by "the international religion industry".
Multi-cultralism has become another tool to increase the
marginalization and ghettoization of immigrant communities. In this concept the issue of
minority rights versus respecting the rights of individuals are one of the main
obstacles in establishing a secular society.
In connection to
, the issue of minority rights has
been raised by the initiators of Sharia court in
who claim that minority rights require the installation of a Sharia court.
Let's open the concept of
"minority rights" versus "individual rights", by using the same argument that the initiators
of Sharia court in
Canada used. We are told that because the population of Muslims in
thousand, therefore the government has to validate and legalize their collective rights
as Muslims. The above statement simply says, "Respect the rights of my collective
group and do not interfere in the family issues in Muslim community."
What is missing are the rights of individuals within that
group. The rights of my 13 year old client who was pulled out of school and forced to
marry a man twice her age are not addressed. To place 'minority rights' above individual rights would mean allowing my 13
years old client to get raped regularly
for the rest of her life in what is a community defined marriage. It would mean that
members of the greater society, who are not part of that community, would be forced to
accept this horrific situation and be totally impotent in opposing or
preventing it, simply because the girl belonged to a so called a Muslim community.
Modern and civil societies are based on the
concept of the equal and universal rights
of all residents. They are based on the social identity of human being as opposed to
their identity by religion, nationality, ethnicity and so on.
A civil Society is not built on different " clans and
tribes". A civil society should not create different minorities and then base its
law and regulations to fit these created minorities. Horrific scenarios occur in
societies where people are divided according to their nationality, religion,
ethnicity, race and other non-civil factors, and then laws and regulations are
created in an attempt to suit them all.
Contrary the Ontario Arbitration Act 1991
allows religion to interfere with judicial system, the creation of muli-culturalist and
cultural relativisms is used as its intellectual ally. If every resident in
independent of her or his country of
origin, religion, race, gender, has the exact same rights, then the concept of minority (group of 600,000
Muslims) disappears, and there would be no
need to recognize special rights for non-existent social groups.
To make my point more clear I'd like
to present a case study in order to picture
the life of an individual in secular and non - secular societies. Zari is 31 years old, speaks her own language but
cannot write it. Zari and her husband and her four children came to
about four years ago as political refugees. Her husband is the main applicant. Zari
admitted to police through an interpreter that her husband abused her physically and
sexually during the 16 years of her marriage. In the last incident Zari could not take
the physical abuse and screamed so loudly that her neighbor called the police. Her
husband was arrested. Zari and the children remained at home.What are her rights outside
of her community, as a Canadian resident? I am talking of her individual rights. How
about the rights of the children? What rights do they have in
Hopefully among the audients there
are some law scholars who can explain in detail what rights Zari has. But for now, let
me explain what would happen if Zari is not treated
as a member of collective minority.
Zari would not need a lawyer, as the
state would surely represent her. The husband would be charged with assault. If he were
released on bail, a condition would be a restraining order preventing him from going
near Zari and the children until the matter was resolved in
court. Not even phone contact would be permitted, as the violence occurred while the
children were present. A Child Aid Worker would be assigned to the family's case in
order to protect the children while they were living with their mother. Zari would be the main care provider for the children. They would
remain in their home while receiving social assistance and they would have the
opportunity to attend counseling in order to get ready to establish a life free of
violence. Before I forget, I'd like to mention that Zari, as
an individual, has the right to live and to integrate into Canadian society.
She will be contacted by an outreach worker who will help her, not only to recognize her
rights, but also to make use of those rights. With the help of the outreach counselor, Zari and her children will be able to get subsidized housing that
will, hopefully, suit her family; subsidized day care; before and after school programs;
summer camp; and she will even be able to attend English classes(something that she
always wished to do, but was never permitted to do).
In two years, perhaps Zari will be able to go for job
training. Bear in mind that I only referred to a fraction of her rights in a secular
Every day Zari will
face new challenges. With the support services of the secular society, Zari and the children will be able to overcome those
challenges and to enjoy the right to earn a livelihood; the right to the necessaries of
a normal life in present -day society; the right to leisure, rest and relaxation; the
right to individual independence; the right to socialize and to have a social life; the
right to enjoy a healthy and safe environment and so on.
Let us see what happens to Zari's family under the Arbitration act 1991 this act directly
allows the interference of religion in the Canadian justice system. It allows Muslim
families to resolve their family disputes according to Sharia law and regulation, and Zari, as a member of the Muslim community, is expected to make use
of this act.
Shaik Roohi the Imam of her community mosque visited Zari the following morning and told her, "You must undo the
harm you have caused your family. A stranger (he meant police) had no right to interfere
in your private life and your marriage (the Imam is not a stranger). We are Muslim
not westerners. We have rules for
everything and if you don't obey the rules then
you will be in trouble". He then stated, "Your marriage is approved by
the law of the God. The law of Islam allows your husband to discipline
you and his children (lets call it beat you up) out of love for you." He then
promised to help her out and arrange for the release of her husband from prison. Two
days later her husband returned home and she was told not to let the worker at the
Children Aid Society know about his return. Less than two months after that incident,
while the court was still in process, thanks to Shaik Roohi and polygamy (the practice of having more than one wife
at the one time), her husband brought home a new bride and she was asked to live with
the new bride in the same home. It did not take much time for all members of her
community to know about her and point her out. Soon, Zari lost
all her contact in community. No women dared to talk to her as they too were watched by
their men. She became a good example for other women not to become disobedient. For sure
Shaik Roohi had done his job
As soon as the husband served his
term and was allowed to leave the country, he took Zari
to her home country. She was sent to her parents, simply because by Sharia law, women
are not recognized as independent beings. Zari as a woman
under Sharia law is not independent in legal, economic, social or sexual terms. Her life
is decided for her. In order to work and study, she has to get a man's permission. Even
the most private matter her sexual life is decided by the man. As for the children,
according to roles of Sharia, they always belong to the father. In fact, fathers are
given the right to deprive their daughters of education and Zari's
daughters are no exception. Soon it will be their turn to complete
the cycle to stay minorities forever and never become true Canadian citizens with
equal rights before and under the law.