Sameea Jonnud, Aldershot, UK
In recent weeks I noticed a few matters which were pleasant to the ears of Muslim women. Standing out was the news that Debenhams plan to begin stocking the hijab and modest clothing items in their department stores. This ties in with the rising popularity of clothing brands designing modest wear and means the choice and accessibility of fashionable clothes is becoming more extensive and, importantly, the hope for tolerance of the hijab, a symbol of faith.
However the climate has once more turned sour with the news that the European Union Court of Justice has ruled that prohibiting religious symbols in the workplace is not discriminatory. Under this ruling an employer could prohibit the Muslim Hijab, Sikh Paghri, Jewish Kippah or Christian crucifix. With religious freedom being curtailed in this way we are left with the fact of discrimination on the grounds of religion being set in law – a dangerous precedent to be set in a Europe currently witnessing the rise of far-right elements.
This ruling may be seen as acceptable if an item is a danger or restricts the worker from doing their job safely or competently, however when this is not the case a prohibition on the grounds of a neutral look is unjustified. Are we destined to become clones with nothing to differentiate one worker from another?
In cases of the Hijab, Muslim women have been wearing it and finding no restriction to the jobs they do whether they are doctors, teachers, scientists or shop workers and from participating in sports activities. Muslim women in these situations are exercising their free choice and are proud to work and fully participate in society while remaining true to their faith. Any ban on a hijab in the workplace could lead to many Muslim women leaving the workforce which itself could lead to accusations they don’t mix in their communities.
What’s a Muslim woman to do? Many in the West complain that Muslim women are forced to cover their heads by the laws of Islam and by the men in their lives. Now they themselves are passing laws which can require women to uncover their heads. A great deal is made about a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body even in regards to terminating the life of an unborn child; yet where a head covering is concerned she appears increasingly told what to do regardless of her choice in the matter.
Laws such as one allowing an employer to prohibit religious symbols are only taking us down a slope which will become ever more slippery leading to further infringements on the rights of the religious; a grimly dystopian future, so different from a joyful and united free Europe, beckons.