The Boundaries of Religious Pluralism

  • Zaheeda P. Alibhai
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Lived Religion and Societal Challenges book series (PSLRSC)


In the twenty-first century, perhaps nowhere do religion, citizenship and national values intersect more visibly than in government policies regulating and banning the niqab (face covered with the eyes showing) and burqa (full-covered body with netting in front of the eyes) that some Muslim women wear in public spaces. The reconfiguration of the visibility of religion in the public sphere has taken on an increasing dependence on public policy and the use of law in the governance, management and regulation of religion within pluralist societies. On 16 November 2015, Canada became the first western democracy to legally retract a policy directive banning Muslim women from wearing the niqab and burqa during the oath of allegiance at Canadian citizenship ceremonies. The retraction was framed as a symbol of the Canadian values of diversity and inclusion. Western democratic nations such as Austria, France, Denmark and the Netherlands have maintained similar policies banning ‘face-covering clothing’ such as ski masks, motor helmets, niqabs and burqas in public spaces (schools, hospitals, government buildings). Rationales underpinning banning or restricting face-covering clothing in public spaces are argued in two ways: security and national values. First, the securitisation discourse (Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands) emphasises national security and improved safety by making individuals more identifiable. Second, the national values (France) discourse argues that individuals ‘with their face entirely masked’ in public spaces are incompatible with French values of freedom, fraternity and gender equality. It is important to note that, while, ultimately the laws apply to all impediments that cover the face—the political rhetoric that introduces and shades these bans reveal the clear intentions and targets of the policies are Muslim women and specific interpretations of their ‘lived religion’.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zaheeda P. Alibhai
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Classics and Religious StudiesUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

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