Prime Minister Stephen Harper's special adviser on issues in the Middle East has come to the defence of an 11-year-old Muslim girl who was prevented from wearing a hijab in a weekend soccer game while dismissing comments from Premier Jean Charest on the matter as "nonsense."
A Muslim himself, Conservative MP Wajid Khan said if the RCMP's uniform can be altered to allow some officers to wear turbans, surely girls should be allowed to wear a hijab, which can hardly be considered dangerous.
"You can't hide a bomb under a hijab," said a laughing Khan.
"I would hate to see what is happening in Europe come here, to be honest with you. I am very conscious of the security of Canada and Canadians. I have done a lot of work on that issue, but I think an 11-year-old girl, all she wants to do is play soccer.
"Let her play the game."
When asked about Charest's comments, which compared the referee's intervention to when he was told as a youngster to tuck his uniform into his shorts, Khan said the premier was speaking "nonsense" and the controversy is clearly based on a misunderstanding.
"People are talking about burkas. A hijab is not a burka, for godsakes," said Khan, who recently left the Liberal backbench to join the Conservatives' ranks.
"I think there is a misunderstanding. But no one is telling anyone how to dress. I come back to the RCMP. If they can change their uniform, an old institution like that, we changed that, then I think saner heads can prevail."
Last Sunday, Asmahan (Azzy) Mansour of Ottawa was turfed from an indoor soccer field by a Muslim referee at a tournament in Laval after she refused to remove her Islamic head scarf.
Liberal Senator Mobina Jaffer, the upper chamber's first Muslim member, echoed the criticisms on Charest's comments.
"I was so shocked that Charest, first of all, would get involved in this. How does a hijab get in the way at all in playing soccer. My sadness is it will stop girls from playing sports. We need to look at what is in the best interest of the children, especially the girls - it is real sad," she said.
Jaffer said Charest was insensitive: "To compare this to always being asked to tuck in his jersey. It was such an insulting comment - what is he thinking about?
"He represents a large Muslim community as premier, probably has the largest community in Quebec and for him to compare the hijab to putting his jersey into his pants. Where is the sensitivity?"
Liberal MP Omar Alghabra said Ontario had a similar controversy a few years ago when a Sikh soccer player was asked to remove his kirpan or leave the game.
He said a human rights commission ruling in the player's favour settled the matter.
"This is an issue of individual rights and freedom of expression," said Alghabra, a Muslim. "I don't think wearing a hijab, or any religious attire, can be viewed as dangerous. It is like wearing a T-shirt, and there was no need for this."
He also did not agree with Charest's comments, saying if that was the case, the soccer player should have simply been asked to "tuck" in her hijab into the neck of her uniform.
Like everyone interviewed yesterday, Environment Minister John Baird praised the Ottawa soccer team that walked off the field: "I was tremendously proud of the way the team and the coach handled the situation."
He added he complimented a group of young hijab-wearing Muslim women during a recent visit to a school in his Ottawa area riding.
Sports Minister Helena Guergis declined comment on the controversy yesterday.
Charest wrong: Harper adviser
'My sadness is it will stop girls from playing sports,' Muslim senator says