This is Toronto, Halima, T-O-R-O-N-T-O, not Mogadishu

Skirt too long to please employer
Muslim airport worker, laid off after altering uniform, takes case to rights commission
The Star
November 17, 2007
John Goddard, Staff Reporter

A few inches of skirt length have led to an airport security guard's suspension. The skirt is too long – not too short – to please the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.

Halima Muse, a practising Muslim, has been laid off without pay until she agrees to wear a standard uniform that includes either slacks or a skirt falling at the knee. Instead, she has filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission saying she is the target of religious discrimination, as Islam instructs that she dress modestly in a way that covers the body and conceals its curves.

"My skirt is not that much different – it's a bit longer," she said yesterday from her home not far from Pearson airport, where she has worked for more than five years. "It's not about style, it's about my dignity."

Muse, 33, is the single mother of one teenage son. She came to Canada from Somalia in 1989 and says she enjoyed working at the airport and never had problems with her immediate employer, Garda of Canada.

"I love my job," said Muse, who scanned passengers and luggage in the security area. "I like the people working with me. All the managers are nice to me. Most of the travellers are nice. We meet lots of different kinds of people ...

"It's flexible," she also said. "I pray five times a day for five minutes."

Until February of this year, Muse wore slacks with her uniform but never liked them, her brief to the commission says. They showed the shape of her body. She asked the Garda employee in charge of uniforms for a skirt longer than the standard one. No such skirt existed, she was told, but she negotiated a solution. Matching colour and material, she made her own skirt that reached the ankle.

For six months all went well, Muse said in the interview. Then a Garda manager said she must conform to regulations.

"The regulations are established by (the air transport security authority)," said Garda communications director Joe Gavaghan.

"We neither set those requirements nor can we interpret them ...

"We immediately went to (the federal authority) indicating what the situation was and asking them to please direct us as to what we could do. They came back and had made the decision that there are two alternatives: Women can wear a skirt that is knee length or they can wear pants."

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority will take questions next week, a spokesperson said.

Muse's suspension from work happened in stages. On Aug. 11, Garda suspended her one day for wearing the ankle-length skirt. On Aug. 15, she was suspended for three days. On Aug. 22, the penalty became five days. On Aug. 29, she was sent home indefinitely.

"I am talking for all women who would like to wear a long skirt – practising Christians, Jewish, Muslim, all of them," Muse said.

Taking a stand has already cost her, she said. Out of work nearly three months, she is running up debt on a credit card and borrowing money from her brother.

The federal employment insurance agency has refused to qualify her, she said, because she is not officially unemployed – she can go back to her job if she conforms to regulations she considers to violate her religious rights. The welfare department has similarly denied her application, she said.

Adjective: 1. Always the same, as in character or degree; unvarying.
2. Conforming to one principle, standard, or rule; consistent
3. Being the same as or consonant with another or others.
4. Unvaried in texture, color, or design.
Noun: 1. A distinctive outfit intended to identify those who wear it as
members of a specific group.
2. One set of such an outfit.
The American Heritage® Dictionary

Let us begin by clearing up one significant issue. Ms. Muse’s wardrobe choice is a cultural belief, not a religious one. The Qur'an enjoins women (and men) to dress modestly only. Nowhere is it mandated that they must cover their bodies almost completely from head to toe (actually an Arab tradition.)

“Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and guard their chastity; that is purer for them. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their chastity, and not to make a display of their beauty except what is apparent, and let them cast a cover over their bosoms.... And turn to Allah (God) altogether, O believers, in order that you might succeed” (Qur'an 24: 30-31)

“O prophet, tell your wives, your daughters, and the wives of the believers that they shall lengthen their garments. Thus, they will be recognized and avoid being insulted. God is Forgiver, Most Merciful.” ( Qur'an 33:59)

These two short passages are the total dress instruction in the Qur'an. Ms. Muse may be alluding to the latter which mentions lengthening garments. However, no instruction is given regarding how long or, for that matter, which garments should be lengthened.

Ms. Muse comes from a society where “modestly” has long been interpreted as fully covered by some of the most strict, fundamentalist, hardline, male Islamic clerics on the planet. In the Canadian cultural context, a knee length skirt or slacks are considered modest dress.

Ms. Muse, who “loves her job,” has worked at the airport for over five years and has worn slacks during this time apparently without complaint. She was no doubt made aware of the conditions of employment when she accepted the position. Why the discomfort now?

Her employer, Garda of Canada, a Montreal based international security firm, does not dress their employees in a uniform for frivolous reasons. As a security organization it is essential that employees present to the public an appearance of competence and near-military efficiency. A standard uniform helps to produce that impression.

A popular buzzword regarding immigrants with respect to their culture and religion is “reasonable accommodation.” Garda have certainly been reasonable in allowing Ms. Muse time to pray. Prayer is religious. Dress is not. Expecting Garda to make exceptions to company dress policy is not reasonable.

This is Canada. On her own time, Ms. Muse is free to go about in a burqua, should she choose to do so. On company time, she is obliged to conform to the company standard.

Canada Employment Insurance and the local welfare office have made the correct decision in this instance.

Update: A Very Canadian Resolution to the Problem

TORONTO (Reuters) Nov.21,2007 - A Muslim airport screener who was suspended from her job at Toronto's Pearson airport because her skirt was too long has been allowed to return to work under a compromise with her employer.

The security company, Garda of Canada, has offered the worker, Halima Muse, a full-time administrative job that will allow her to wear civilian attire instead of the uniform required in her previous role, the Teamsters union said in a statement on Wednesday.

Muse's employer had suspended her for wearing a skirt longer than the knee-length garment the company had issued her. She wanted to wear the longer skirt to conform with the Islamic dress code.

The union, which represents security workers at Pearson airport, said Muse would also receive back pay for the three months she was on suspension.

Muse said she is content with the ruling as long as her salary stays the same.

Under the agreement, Muse will stay in the administrative position until the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) can evaluate its policies, which required Muse to choose between a shorter skirt or pants, neither of which she deemed modest enough. Garda of Canada said it had to follow CATSA's guidelines.

Benny Hinn - What a Friend He Has in Jesus

It’s been two decades since the TV demise of pioneer televangelists Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart amid charges of sexual impropriety and fraud. While still in business, neither command the millions of followers they once did. In their place a new generation of TV preachers has arisen to tap the pockets of the vulnerable.

Foremost among them is Benny Hinn. His current television show “This is Your Day” is available several days a week on a number of networks. The program features highlights of his “Miracle Crusade” in which the diminutive and dapper Hinn, along with a television crew, travels the world preaching in a decidedly flamboyant style and supposedly “curing” fervent attendees of a variety of ailments. Due to his popularity, these events are usually held in large stadiums.

The crusade events begin with the singing by Hinn and the choir of a simplistic religious song which, by means of endless repetition, turns into a mesmerizing chant. Meanwhile, the camera focuses on certain audience members, arms raised heavenward, seemingly undergoing a tearful religious experience. Next is the faith healing segment.

There is, of course, a great deal of controversy concerning faith healing ranging from unquestioned acceptance to complete dismissal as charlatanism. Although spontaneous remission of a disease such as cancer is not unknown, despite his claims to the contrary there is no evidence authenticated by an independent medical agency of any lasting cure by Hinn or others of his kind. More likely, when a person has a strong belief that a healer is able to create a cure, a “placebo effect” can temporarily make the person feel better. Critics also suggest that someone believing in faith healing is unlikely to seek proper medical attention, perhaps endangering their life.

In combination with his “healing” devotees experience being “slain in the spirit” during which, after a laying on of hands by Pastor Benny, they appear to lose all motor control of their body and topple backwards, sometimes repeatedly, to be neatly fielded by assistants before reaching the floor. This startling phenomenon is, of course, attributed to the power of God. However, reason would attribute it to the hyper-suggestible believer, already in a hysterical state as a result of the intensity of the situation, experiencing at Hinn’s touch an emotional reaction similar to fainting, perhaps including a drop in blood pressure. The power of suggestion is another possibility as the devoted subject would certainly know what is expected of him/her. Whatever the reason, it is nonetheless a very impressive piece of theatrics which is not lost on the audience.

During the final ten minutes or so of the program, from a studio, Hinn exhorts television viewers to accept Christ while at the same time interjecting a series of names or locations of people implying that they are being cured even as he mentions them:

“There’s a lady named Barbara with lung disease. The Lord has cured her. Thank you, Lord.”
“George in Cincinnati has a heart condition. He is cured. Thank you, Jesus.”

Needless to say, there is no proof that Barbara or George exist.

At this point he asks for a “donation” in exchange for a booklet or a religious trinket

His very slick website is worth examining. Almost every page is devoted to selling something – books, courses, or simply asking for a donation. He touts the benefit of a tithe (minimum $5.00 – maximum $6000.00) on the page labeled “Your Life.” It is also possible to become a “Covenant Partner” for $30.00 per month. The advantages are:

“Your seed, sown in the soil of this ministry, will bring a harvest to your life over and over again as you please our precious Master, Jesus, by helping to win the lost of this world.”

Although not apparent from the telecasts that I viewed, Benny Hinn is a proponent of the Prosperity Gospel movement. Under this teaching, supporters believe that faith works to create miracles and that it is through their faith that they can obtain anything they want – such as health, wealth, or any form of personal success. According to Pastor Benny if a person expresses their faith by sowing a sufficient monetary seed into his ministry - that person will be granted divine benefits. With several million adherents – well, you do the math.

This is no less than the granting of indulgences, the ancient practice of the Catholic Church extending merits from its Treasure House of Merit based on the accumulated good deeds of the saints. Used for the forgiveness of sins and granting of privileges, these merits could be bought and sold. Supposedly ended in the sixteenth century with the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther, indulgences appear to have survived albeit in contemporary form.

Benny Hinn Ministries does not belong to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) a watchdog organization which attempts to develop and maintain standards of accountability regarding fund raising of religious organizations. Hinn is currently under investigation by the United States Senate Committee on Finance. Depending on the results of the investigation, he could lose his IRS Tax Exempt status.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that Hinn is the lowest form of con man, exploiting the emotional and spiritual needs of the desperate, viewers, many of whom can ill afford it, will no doubt continue to donate millions of dollars annually in the hope of realizing some small improvement in their lives.

Watch the CBC’s Fifth Estate documentary “Do You Believe in Miracles.”

Are Our Muslims Like Their Muslims?

After a misinterpretation by Elections Canada officials of federal election laws passed this spring allowed Muslim women to vote in three Quebec by-elections without removing their veils for identification purposes, the federal government has tabled new legislation requiring all voters to reveal their faces before being allowed to vote. It is expected that the new legislation will be supported by all parties. The Quebec provincial government is expected to follow suit within the next few days.

While the incidents of the Quebec by-elections were minor and certainly had no effect on the ultimate results, they did highlight a potential future problem which Canada must be prepared to face. Are we required to accommodate religious and cultural beliefs of immigrant groups and if so, to what extent?

The 750,000 Muslims in Canada, slightly over 2% of the total population, present the country with a situation which it has never been forced to acknowledge before. Previous influxes of immigrant groups have been essentially from secular countries. Muslims, of which over 90% are first generation Canadians, come largely from religion based, although not necessarily theocratic, societies. Malaysia, for example, has a Muslim population that represents 52% of the total, although officially a secular state – a legacy of 150 years of British domination.

A SES poll conducted this past September and reported in the Oct. 22nd issue of Maclean’s Magazine is summarized as follows:
“…. by significant majorities in Canada as a whole, and by overwhelming majorities in Quebec, Canadians and Quebecers declare limits to reasonable accommodation. When asked whether it was reasonable to accommodate religious and cultural minorities or whether immigrants should fully adapt to culture in Canada, only 18.0 percent of respondents said reasonable accommodation best reflected their personal views, as opposed to 53.1 percent who thought immigrants should fully adapt, and 21.3 percent who agreed with neither statement.”

Also, as reported in Maclean’s, there is considerable concern in this country about European Muslims, particularly those of the Netherlands – that “our Muslims are like their Muslims.” However, an examination of the origins and circumstances of the Dutch experience indicates that current conditions in the two countries are not at all similar. That is not to say that Canada could not inherit some of the same problems in the future should government not approach immigrant policy in a rational and intelligent manner.

The roots of the Dutch situation can be traced back to the 1960’s when thousands of unskilled immigrants came to the country as part of a “guest worker” program for jobs in the textile, ship building and mining industries. Initially from Italy and Spain and later from Turkey and Morocco, they were expected to stay a few years and then return home. Many did indeed leave, but many more did not. Government policy at the time was essentially one of liberal multiculturalism and encouraged people to be educated in their own language and culture. Continuing to turn a blind eye to reality, it was assumed that these workers would assimilate and seek relationships among the existing Dutch population. They didn’t, and were then allowed to sponsor relatives and potential spouses from their own countries.

As the needs of industry evolved from unskilled labour to a high tech workforce Holland found itself divided into essentially two societies – a highly skilled affluent group and an unskilled, impoverished, mostly Muslim underclass with little motive to assimilate.

The 1990’s saw a further influx of immigrants as refugees from countries such as Somalia. Today, Muslims constitute 5.5% of the total population of the Netherlands.

Large, mainly Muslim ghettoes developed in major cities. Satellite television antennae sprouted from the rooftops of state housing projects tuned, not to programs supporting Western values, but to programs from their homeland often featuring inflammatory anti-Western rhetoric of extremist clerics.

In her autobiography “Infidel” Ayaan Hirsi Ali describes the existing situation. “As I went on doing research, it became painfully apparent that of all non-Western immigrants in Holland, the least integrated are Muslims. Among immigrants, unemployment is highest for Moroccans and Turks, the largest Muslim groups, although their average level of skills is roughly the same as all the other immigrant populations. Taken as a whole, Muslims in Holland make disproportionately heavy claims on social welfare and disability benefits and are disproportionately involved in crime.”

The murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004 by a young, alienated jihadist served to alarm the country to the danger inherent in many Muslim populations - the existence of an Islamic extremist element. Although some factions continue to call for a continuance of liberal policies, strong efforts are being made to curb immigration from Islamic countries as well as to reform internal educational and cultural policy. Unfortunately, these efforts may have come too late.

The life of Muslims in Canada bears little resemblance to that of Dutch Muslims, with the exception of their faith.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada accepts applications for potential immigrants in two basic categories – Skilled Workers and Professionals and Investors, Entrepreneurs, and Self-Employed Persons, both of which have very stringent standards based on education, skills, language ability and financial viability. Applicants can also be nominated by individual provinces again providing they qualify. All applicants must pass health, security and criminal record checks. There are additional requirements to sponsor family members by permanent residents. There is no “guest worker” program. As a result of these standards Canadian Muslims, having qualified for immigration to Canada, begin their new life with a substantial investment in achieving success.

On average, Canadian Muslims are younger and more educated, and are not ghettoized, as are their European counterparts. However, as the newest ethnic group they suffer a higher rate of unemployment compared to other groups while those with employment initially tend to be in jobs in which their skills are not fully utilized such as Sales and Services. Some see this as a result of discrimination and there is no doubt some truth in this. It must be added that better Canadian jobs often require a year or two of Canadian experience which can sometimes only be gained in these relatively low-skill areas.

As a rule, Canadian society is comparatively more tolerant and there have not been serious confrontations between the Muslims and the rest of the society and the government. Nonetheless, most Muslims in Canada have no doubt experienced at least some form of racism or “Islamophobia”. Historically, all new cultures have had initial negative reaction from a minority of biased “native” Canadians – the Italians after WWII, East Indians and currently, the Chinese, although racism against the latter is declining rapidly as they assimilate. In time Muslims will receive similar acceptance depending, of course, on their willingness to adapt to their new environment.

Officially designated as a “multicultural” society in 1971, over the years Canada has developed a singularly Canadian culture which is recognized and respected world wide. While remaining sympathetic as far as possible to the needs of its diverse population, Canada remains firmly entrenched in Western Enlightenment values – respect for the individual, freedom, democracy, rationalism and British Common Law. In the past, there have been challenges to these values by various ethnic groups usually based on religious grounds – the failed effort in 2004 to have Sharia law accepted by Ontario family courts and more recently, an equally unsuccessful attempt to initiate public funding for faith-based schools. Nonetheless, where it is in their interests, accommodation is being made voluntarily by a number of organizations, public and private, for Islamic religious practice during work hours.

Canada has the opportunity to avoid the social and political problems currently being experienced by the Dutch. However, to do so, we must remain vigilant lest our liberal policies be used against us by those who may neither understand nor accept the values from which these policies have emerged. To “over-accommodate” would be a serious mistake.

Submission - Women Of Islam

For the three people in the world who may not as yet have seen it, here is “Submission”. A collaborative effort between Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh and writer Ayann Hirsi Ali, the film focuses on the abuse of women in Islamic societies. Verses from the Qu’ran are painted on the women’s bodies.

As a direct result of making this film on November 2, 2004 van Gogh was assassinated in Amsterdam by Mohammed Bouyeri who left a note affixed to van Gogh’s chest with a dagger linking him to the film and his views on Islam. Addressed to Ms. Hirsi Ali, it called for jihad against the unbelievers and the death of Ms. Hirsi Ali herself.

As a result, Ms. Hirsi Ali lives with a full time bodyguard. She continues to work from an undisclosed location in the Netherlands.