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Women in hijab: Uncovering discrimination in the workplace

By Heather Elawawadh, Communications Intern

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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.

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One Response to “Women in hijab: Uncovering discrimination in the workplace”

  1. leyla says:

    I work in the airline industry, as flight crew. Flight attendants are not allowed to wear hijaab at the airline I work for, but customer service agents and office staff are allowed to wear it. I have been a fight attendant for 15 years, and love my job, though some aspects, like serving alcoholic drinks are not Islamically correct. I would not want to serve anyone alcohol or ham sandwhiches while wearing hijaab anyway, so I only wear hijaab on my days off . I feel like I have a conflict of my work identity and the ‘real, Muslima’ me when I am not flying. I make duaa that Allah will help me find another opportunity within my company, or another job where I do not have to compromise my values for the sake of a paycheck.

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