"What it does, tragically, is it allows for a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment to rise again," said Alia Hogben, head of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.
A referee ordered 11-year-old Asmahan Mansour off the pitch during a National tournament game on Sunday, February 25, for wearing the hijab on the grounds of posting a threat to the players' safety.
"If the official was worried about the hijab floating or restricting the girl's vision or something like that, they could have worked out a compromise," Hogben said.
imam Salam Elmenyawi, head of the Muslim Council of Montreal, warned that such incidents could push Muslims into isolation.
"Here is the point: when this girl was given the choice between her religion and being in the game, she decided on her religion - and this will happen every time," he told the Canadian daily.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
Elmenyawi said barring hijab-clad girls encourages those who would prefer Muslims form their own sports leagues and play outside the mainstream.
"If you don't accommodate girls like her, then you're pushing them into isolation, into a ghetto, and I think this is really dangerous."
Muslims make up nearly two percent of Canada's some 32.8 million people and Islam has become the number one non-Christian faith in the country.
A recent poll showed that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are proud to be Canadian and that they are integrated and more educated than the general population.
"If you don't accommodate girls like her, then you're pushing them into isolation," Elmenyawi said.
Quebec Premier Jean Charest was quick to weigh into the furor, defending the referee's red card.
"My understanding is that the referee applied the rules of the soccer federation," said Charest, himself a one-time soccer player.
But the premier's stance was not shared by others in the southern French-speaking province.
Louis Maneiro, Mansour's coach, blasted the referee's decision as "ridiculous."
He asserted that FIFA rules do not specify anything about wearing hijab, or any religious headgear.
Maneiro warned that Quebec "is basically telling the world that no Muslim girl is allowed to play the sport."
Supporting their Muslim teammate, the players of the Nepean Hotspurs Selects, an under-12 girls team, walked off the field at the tournament.
Four other youth soccer teams from Ottawa also forfeited their games and left the field in protest.
"We supported our teammate and our friend. And I think we did a really good thing by walking off the field," said teammate Lisa Furano.
The 11-year-old girl said that other girls on the team often wear headbands.
"How is this different?"
Related Links:Canadian Official Hails Muslims’ “Vital Contributions”
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