Women in hijab: Uncovering discrimination in the workplace

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By Heather Elawawadh

America is supposed to be the land of the free, home of the brave, where dreams come true, and where religion can be practiced openly. If only those words were true.

How is it possible to be free and brave when society is too afraid to let you? One would think religion would be one of those topics where the decision to practice is personal.For Muslims this is not true, more precisely Muslim women who choose to dress modestly and wear a hijab (headscarf).

Women who choose to dress modestly face more discrimination because the hijab openly declares them as Muslim. A woman that wears the hijab has to work much harder to prove herself than a woman who does not, or who simply does not look Muslim. A Muslim woman can easily be spotted in a crowd with her scarf wrapped around her head; it is thus significantly easier to profile a woman as Muslim than a man, because men do not typically wear anything to signify that they are Muslim.

Women who want to work and practice their religion by wearing the hijab face a lot of difficult situations and discrimination. Companies may see the hijab and immediately make the decision to not hire because of her religion of choice, as the scarf may not have “a place in their work environment”, completely disregarding any and all skills the applicant may hold.

Such as Hani Khan, a resident in California who worked at Abercrombie & Fitch and Co., a retailer known for its radical modeling advertisements and also for discrimination against religion. Khan was interviewed and hired by Abercrombie & Fitch in 2009; she was to work in the stock room, she didn’t care, it was a job nonetheless. She worked for a couple of months, and then the regional manager visited the store. He asked Khan to remove her scarf during working hours. When she refused she was suspended. This isn’t the first time Abercrombie & Fitch has been accused of racism. In two years, the company has had two complainants against them; both complainants from Muslim, hijab-wearing women. She has since filed a lawsuit against the company for wrongful termination and discrimination of religion.

A second case of discrimination, also from California, has made national news; an employee of “the happiest place on earth” was denied the request to add the hijab to her uniform. Disney is a company that takes pride in proclaiming its magic and equal opportunity for its employees. Imane Boudlal was hired in 2008 to work at a hotel restaurant within the resort. When Boudlal was hired she did not wear the hijab. No one could tell she was Muslim, she admitted she was scared to wear the scarf when she was only a green card holder because she did not want to be discriminated against, but when she finalized her citizenship she decided to wear her hijab and openly practice her religion.

When she told the company that she would wear the scarf to match the work outfit which was a western-style with a long sleeve white blouse, a vest, and slacks, Disney refused. She was told they would work with her, and would provide her with a hat; a hat that would not adhere to the laws of modesty of the Islamic faith. The hat that was allowed only covered her hair and ears and had a strap that went under the chin, leaving her neck completely exposed. Once Boudlal refused this option, she was told if she wanted to wear her own hijab she’d have to work out of the view of guests. When Boudlal made an official complaint the company claimed it was her that refused their “proposed adaptations” and that religious beliefs should work around the job instead of the company working to accommodate reasonable requests based on religion.

Many discrimination cases happen to women everyday and never make the news, local or otherwise. The problems faced by deciding to wear the hijab and by being a practicing Muslim in today’s workforce are horrendous.  Companies say that wearing a hijab is a cultural choice, and in no way are they obligated to respect cultural norms. Some women cannot handle the stress that is put on them, so they choose not to wear the scarf and they are more accepted by western culture because they don’t look different.

The American people pride themselves with freedom of expression, religion, and speech. So why is it that the Muslim community has been stripped of those rights? How are their beliefs in the hijab any different from the catholic community’s belief in the nuns habit; both coverings are of women of faith and religion. Freedom really isn’t free until all religions can be practiced without fear of being discriminated against because of an article of clothing one chooses to wear.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Chicago Monitor’s editorial policy.

 

12 Responses to Women in hijab: Uncovering discrimination in the workplace

  1. Brother Warren Kundis says:

    Assalamo-Alaikum sister Heather,

    Thank you so much for this article, Masha Allah. As a revert to Islam have been blessed with many opportunities to speak with students and the public about the principles of the faith. I have done so as Dua, make it very clear that I am not a scholar nor do I speak for Islam. Please allow me to make an observation.

    Descrimination in the workplace in all it’s forms is an ongoing challenge for us all. Would be extremely interested in how the two incidences are being resolved. Do believe that the individual principles as well as their attendant strategies are vital to resolving current and future cases. A series of articles written by you Sister Heather are necessary in unraveling the complex legal and ethical issues involved. Insha Allah, look forward to reading them.

    Assalamo-Alaikum
    Your Brother in Islam
    Warren

  2. Anonymous says:

    ASAK sister,
    I must say that I agree with your article very much. I am a U.S. Citizen, born and raised here in America. I decided to wear hijab after my undergrad after detail researching and observing. While in college I never felt the need to wear hijab since I was kind of a tomboy. In my second year, I started realizing that my peers take my personality for granted but gives importance to my looks. When I wore something girly, aka tight jeans and tight shirt with short sleeves and occasionally low neckline, I got much more attention from both genders. My intellect and hard work was always undermined. I cared a lot about keeping my so called friends for the four years and kept changing the way I looked and dressed. I wanted to be part of the crowd and in doing so I felt like my personality was crushed. I was loosing my confidence and my morals. One day as I was driving home, I saw on billboard an ad that completely commercialized a women to sell men’s razors. I never felt that low before. What relevance does a half naked women has in selling men’s razors? Or a sportscar? Or men’s undergarment? The billboards following the razor ad simply made me feel lower and lower of being a women. Am I in this world to be a marketing tool for men? Am I better than women in the past centuries? Not exactly. In fact I felt like women today are much more enslaved and deprived today then ever before. We have pushed ourselves away from liberation and modernism and chose westernizing and physical exposure to gain a virtual position in this society. From that day on I started wearing hijab and dressing modestly. Spiritually, I feel liberated and accomplished, but publicly I face discrimination every day of my life.
    Today as a mother of two girls, I stand worried and scared for my babies. Are they both going to face the stares of people at regular grocery stores? Will the people strip my girls with their eyes of hatred? Will they do four times their normal workload to prove to a committee that they deserve a position or a scholarship or an award? When my girls are born Americans why would they not be given the rights to follow the constitution fairly and freely? If their crime is that they are Muslims, then should they loose their faith and adapt to the western way, or keep fighting their entire lives?
    I am in mid thirties and I still get told by some very educated Caucasians to go back to my ****ing country. This is my country or that’s what my birth certificate says or if this isn’t my country, what is? And why am I paying taxes and following all the laws and regulations and being a good citizen? Why?

  3. Anonymous says:

    ASAK sister,
    I must say that I agree with your article very much. I am a U.S. Citizen, born and raised here in America. I decided to wear hijab after my undergrad after detail researching and observing. While in college I never felt the need to wear hijab since I was kind of a tomboy. In my second year, I started realizing that my peers take my personality for granted but gives importance to my looks. When I wore something girly, aka tight jeans and tight shirt with short sleeves and occasionally low neckline, I got much more attention from both genders. My intellect and hard work was always undermined. I cared a lot about keeping my so called friends for the four years and kept changing the way I looked and dressed. I wanted to be part of the crowd and in doing so I felt like my personality was crushed. I was loosing my confidence and my morals. One day as I was driving home, I saw on billboard an ad that completely commercialized a women to sell men’s razors. I never felt that low before. What relevance does a half naked women has in selling men’s
    razors? Or a sportscar? Or men’s undergarment? The billboards following the razor ad simply made me feel lower and lower of being a women. Am I in this world to be a marketing tool for men? Am I better than women in the past
    centuries? Not exactly. In fact I felt like women today are much more enslaved and deprived today then ever before. We have pushed ourselves away from liberation and modernism and chose westernizing and physical exposure to gain
    a virtual position in this society. From that day on I started wearing hijab and dressing modestly. Spiritually, I feel
    liberated and accomplished, but publicly I face discrimination every day of my life.
    Today as a mother of two girls, I stand worried and scared for my babies. Are they both going to face the stares of
    people at regular grocery stores? Will the people strip my girls with their eyes of hatred? Will they do four times their
    normal workload to prove to a committee that they deserve a position or a scholarship or an award? When my girls are
    born Americans why would they not be given the rights to follow the constitution fairly and freely? If their crime is that
    they are Muslims, then should they loose their faith and adapt to the western way, or keep fighting their entire lives?
    I am in mid thirties and I still get told by some very educated Caucasians to go back to my ****ing country. This is my
    country or that’s what my birth certificate says or if this isn’t my country, what is? And why am I paying taxes and
    following all the laws and regulations and being a good citizen?

  4. Marwa says:

    Assalamu alaikum sister,

    Thank you so much for writing this article, I am merely a thirteen year old girl, but i do feel very strongly as i wear the hijab and have done so for five years. It shocks me to see that there are people who would actually fire people because of the way they dress, It is like me going up to a woman wearing a cross around her neck and telling her it is not permitted then getting her fired if she does not take it off. It is all very heartbreaking as now i am worried it will affect me, and though i would never take off my hijab (under any circumstances) I pray to god that this discrimiation stops.

  5. Khadijah says:

    Asalamualiakum I have a story to share with you guys this just happened right now as am writing this. I don’t know who to talk to so I decided to come on the internet maybe other people are facing the same situation as I am. Started working 4 months back, didn’t have my hijab on by then every1 liked me, including both the general manager and the department manager, they always spoke about how hard working I am etc one day I woke up and decided to wear the hijab for the first time to work, it felt so amazing Alhamdulilah. My manager and so many employees started giving me the strange looking eyes asking why am wearing this and that they like seeing my pretty hair at first I took it as a joke so I just laugh and go do my jod. Since then I told myself not to take it off anymore. My manager changed towards me and the general manager they started giving complains of every little mistake I do. Today I said hi to her she just looked at me and left as I was heading home she told me why I decided to change my dress code and that everyone at work is complaining about it. Asking if I wanna do part time instead of full time which I never heard her say. I felt so sad asking myself why do they have to treat me differently only because I decided to dress modestly now. What do I do I need some advice please

  6. […] Women in hijab: Uncovering discrimination in the workplace […]

  7. Tommy says:

    So, I can’t ask to see the faces of my employees, for security matters? What about the workplace danger of having said headwear caught in machinery? I don’t care which stupid religious superstition you cling too, as an employer, I should have the right to take care of my security and safety concerns. Your religion is a personal matter, so is my business. Leave your superstitions at home, if you expect to work for me. Maybe I should mandate exams in science, for all my employees, in exchange for them getting to wear religious costumes…

  8. Women in the 40′s 50′s & 60”s wore scarves on their heads, what the problem here? How is her wearing a hijab affecting you? IT’S NOT! WEAR IT PROUD.
    vancouver canada

  9. Itee says:

    I understand what it is to be discriminated against. But remember that Americans are not used to seeing people in hijab, and people in the west view the muslims are violent. I think some are too. Also, some employers have a right to decide how their employers would look. Maybe if you’re waitress. And the issue of decency, I think it’s unfair for the Muslim women to think the western women are sex objects. Nobody forces anyone to dress the way they do. I think you should talk to your employer, ask him what he really has against the hijab. And explain to him telling him it doesn’t affect your work.

  10. […] all the examples you want, but unless wearing a cross (like a hijab here) causes you trouble in the workplace, or having a white complexion (similar […]

  11. Elizabeth says:

    I am a christian and recently have been studying the KJV bible,reading it I see that a female follower of Christ ought to cover her hair while praying or prophesying as it is a symbol of power on head in the presence of the angels.Another part of the bible says pray without ceasing.If that is the case,it means a female christian ought to cover her hair often because at anytime(if a sincere christian) she would be praying to her God.And it would be shortcoming if everytime she wants to speak to her God she looking for what to cover her hair with.but if she covers her hair often,she is less bothered about praying to God uncovered.Sometimes I just want to talk to God not the kneeling down prayer this time but d heart to heart talk.Pouring my heart to God.Sometimes in my thoughts I pray to God e.g “God help me out of this mess”.Praying to God is like a lifestyle sometimes I t could be like talking to your friend.
    Headcovering for the female Christian is not primarily for modesty but a symbol of power in the sight of the angels of God.
    There are many lies and confusion in the Christian world due to false pastors,false preachers,False prophets,etc.
    Jesus said this would happen in the end of times.It takes the Spirit of God in a believer and constant reading of the Bible(KJV) to really know the true word of God on all things.
    Even though this is an hijab forum,I feel the need to write this.
    To the employer concerned about safety,I am sorry but you are quite prejudiced in your opinion.Yes,accidents can happen on the kind of hair covering used in the workplace but u fail to realise the same can happen with a woman who let’s her hair down uncovered.Infact it is even more safer to have the hair covered cos if the hijab or headcovering should get cut up in the machine.It can easily be removed from the wearer’s head but the uncovered lady hair may need to be cut off to save her life.Another thing is there are headcoverings a muslim/christian can wear that hold close to the head structure as close as possible and eliminates the problem of being caught up in a machine.
    Jesus is the Son Of God and without him none shall have eternal life.
    It’s funny how something as’ minute’as a woman’s cloth can affect her entire life.
    Change a woman’s dress rightly and sexual sin would be reduced
    Change a woman character rightly and sexual purity would be upheld.

  12. Sara says:

    Salaam,

    Thanks for this post. I’m a hijab wearing Muslimah from the UK. I’ve been wearing the hijab for well over 5 years and I do not regret my decision but I am now looking for a job and have had a few interviews. I keep getting rejected even though I can do the job standing on my head. I used to have a retail job and noticed how customers would ignore me and always chose to be served by a white assistant. Trust me some were very obvious about it as well. Now I’m down about not having a job and people keep telling me to remove my hijab at the interview. I don’t want to do this as I’ll be comprising myself but at the same time I want a job!

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