A leader in London’s Muslim community is speaking out about his concerns with the direction of the federal election.
Abd Alfatah Twakkal, the Imam of the London Muslim Mosque, says the discussion around niqabs and other issues related to his faith have distracted from the important concerns of Canadians.
“Unfortunately, these types of issues cause division within Canadian society and bring about negative sentiments,” said Twakkal. “The core issues should always be focused on, more so, in terms of the economy, in terms of jobs, in terms of child care. These are the core issues that matter to all Canadians.”
The Imam, who is from Western Canada but has been with the London Muslim Mosque since 2013, believes most Canadians will reject this turn in the campaign.
“I don’t think this is representative of the majority of Canadians,” he said. “We do feel as Muslims that these negative sentiments are not representative of our country. But unfortunately they are being used in a way to divert from the real issues.”
Twakkal made the comments the day after Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the CBC the idea of banning the wearing of the niqab while working in the public service is “a matter we are going to examine.”
“Quebec, as you know, has legislation on this and we are looking at that legislation,” Harper told Power and Politics host Rosemary Barton.
Harper said the “vast majority of Canadians” understand the Conservative government’s decision to try to ban face coverings at citizenship ceremonies.”
The policy, however, has been overturned in the courts.
The Federal Court of Canada found the rule unlawful in February and the Federal Court of Appeal recently upheld the decision.
The case was brought by Zunera Ishaq, who refused to take part in a ceremony because she would have to show her face while reciting the oath of citizenship.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau urged Harper to dial back the rhetoric.
“To the prime minister directly, stop this before someone truly gets hurt,” Trudeau told the CBC radio. “We have had women attacked in the streets for wearing hijabs and niqabs. This is not Canada, and the kind of leadership and divisive politics that he’s playing is dangerous and irresponsible.”
Twakkal said the issue is a small one – as very few women in Canada wear niqabs.
“I don’t think it’s going to be more than a dozen,” Twakkal told AM980′s Craig Needles Show. “We do see Muslim women who come to the mosque wearing the niqab. They have full participation within our community, it’s not seen to be a barrier of sorts.”
Twakkal says most Muslim women who wear a niqab in Canada do so of their own volition.
“It’s not something that’s forced upon them by any means,” he said. “Close to half of those who do choose to wear it don’t feel that it is actually obligatory. But they choose to wear it in the sense of that it is something that is being praiseworthy and recommended.”
Twakkal also asked politicians to “rise above” divisiveness and hatred for the final ten days of the campaign.