By Ken Gallinger
Question: We are a Christian family. Our daughter, 7, goes to a school where there are many Muslim kids. Some of their moms walk them to school in burkas. My daughter is fascinated by these mysterious “costumes” and says she wants to go out on Halloween as a “Muslim lady.” Do I let her?
Answer: Absolutely not.
In the first place, the Muslim community in Canada is conflicted, within itself, about the place of the burka in religious life.
At one extreme are those, of both genders, who see wearing these garments as a matter of religious devotion, even obligation, for Muslim women. At the other, many see them as signs of the oppression of women, and therefore offensive in a progressive society like ours.
These are complicated questions. Even those women who claim they have “chosen” to wear the burka sometimes testify that, although it was their “free” choice, choosing not to wear it could result in trouble — either at home or in their community. One wonders, therefore, whether a choice made under those conditions is really in any sense free.
The bottom line is that these questions are far too nuanced for most non-Muslims to answer. And if I, who has an opinion on darned near everything, can’t figure this one out, how can your 7-year-old little Christian? What’s she going to say when someone confronts her about this — as someone surely will?
And that’s not the only internal conflict for Canadian Muslims — they are conflicted about Halloween as well. Some more secular Muslims see it as harmless fun, and so allow their kids to participate. In general, however, the faithful see it as offensive, with roots both in Satanism and Christianity, and therefore out of the question for Muslim kids.
Allowing your daughter to dress this way, therefore, is to inject her into the middle of not just one, but two controversies. Not only is that unfair to her, but disrespectful of your Muslim neighbours. I would hope that if your next-door neighbours were having an internal family argument, you wouldn’t knowingly send your kid into the middle of it. Same reasoning applies here.
There will be people who read this and accuse me, as they so often accuse liberal media-types, of Islamophobia, i.e. being scared of Muslims and therefore affording them more respect than we give to Christians. “After all,” they will say, “kids have dressed up as priests and nuns for years on Halloween, and no one said Boo.” True enough — but isn’t it different if Rick Mercer or Mary Walsh teases Newfoundlanders about their unique ways than if a Torontonian calls them Newfies and makes fun of them? Some things that are appropriate inside a family feel different when they come from outside. If a black kid wants to dress up as Jackie Robinson then go for it — but I’m not sure a white kid should put on blackface makeup to do it.
You have a teaching opportunity here, to help your daughter understand the complexities of multiculturalism and mutual respect. Use it — then let her go out as something really scary — a vampire, a lawyer, even Rob Ford.