"I feel like a stranger here now"

Alia Youssef



Nour Farhat wants to be a criminal prosecutor, but she’s had to put that dream on hold after the Quebec government passed a law banning public-service employees from wearing the hijab. Barâa Arar, an aspiring academic, decided to do her master’s degree in Toronto instead of Montreal because she no longer sees a future for herself in the province where she was born. Ichrak Nourel Hak, who is studying to be a teacher, currently finds herself in an impossible position. Her chosen career is no longer an option for her if she continues to wear the hijab.

Quebec’s religious symbols law (formerly Bill 21) was passed in June, 2019 and prohibits the wearing of religious symbols in public-service roles including but not limited to teachers, crown prosecutors, judges, and police officers. This law has derailed the career goals of many religious minorities such as Muslim women who wear the hijab or niqab, Sikhs who wear turbans, and orthodox Jewish men who wear a kippa. It has also stunted the career growth of religious minorities by grandfathering them into the public-service jobs that they had and limiting their advancement. Several court cases against the Quebec government have been launched, but there is no certainty whether any will be successful in suspending the law.

I connected with six Muslim women whose careers, education, mental health or overall well-being have been impacted by the law. The ban has made them question their sense of belonging and citizenship in Quebec. They feel targeted: Muslim women are disproportionately affected by the religious-symbols law. Their stories represent hundreds of other religious minorities in similar circumstances. As Ms. Farhat recounts, “I used to see myself as a complete Québécoise – and presented myself as such when travelling abroad. It’s been a few years now that I don’t see myself as such anymore, but for the first time now I am reconsidering my belonging to the province at all.”


This photo essay was a commissioned cover story for the Globe and Mail. It is produced, photographed, and reported by me. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-i-feel-like-a-stranger-here-now-for-six-muslim-women-quebecs/

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