Iffat Mirza, Raynes Park
I wish I could in earnest say that I was surprised to read that the top EU court had upheld the decision that employers have the right to dismiss or fire employees should they choose to wear the hijab. However, unfortunately, I am not shocked. The attack on a Muslim woman’s freedom and liberty to dress as she’d like has always been a cheap shot and is clearly one that continues to preoccupy the minds of many of Europe’s lawmakers.
The wound would burn less if ordinarily Muslim women were recognised as being active members of European society but instead we already have to deal with the accusations that we refuse to integrate or accustom ourselves to the European way of life, as if ‘European’ were by any means a comprehensible term for one homogenous culture. Despite the reality being that Muslim women are excelling in a range of fields, in just my own personal circles I see doctors, teachers, scientists, academics, lawyers. However if the EU court’s decision were to suddenly become the norm, all of these women would be out of work, and their employers would be lacking some of their best workers.
The reality is that Muslim women are not the ones who are refusing to integrate. They have found it perfectly acceptable to be able to contribute to European society in all sectors with their full devotion and maintain their own faith and beliefs. We see absolutely no dichotomy between the two, but this dichotomy is being forced upon us. We are being made to choose between one or the other, as if the two were fundamentally incompatible, which they are most certainly not.
The court ruled:
A prohibition on wearing any visible form of expression of political, philosophical, or religious beliefs in the workplace may be justified by the employer’s need to present a neutral image towards customers or to prevent social disputes.
Considering this issue arose after two women in Germany were sacked for wearing a headscarf, one of whom was a pharmacist, I would like to genuinely ask why a pharmacy felt the need to present a ‘neutral image’ to ‘prevent social disputes’? Unless motivated by racist and Islamophobic views, what sort of social dispute would arrive in a pharmacy over the matter of a hijab-clad woman behind the counter?
Whilst these decisions are thinly veiled under the pretence of any ‘political, philosophical, or religious belief’ it is seldom applicable to anyone but a Muslim woman in a headscarf. The desire to strip us of our Muslim-ness is nothing new: in 1513 the newly unified Spanish kingdoms explicitly banned any ‘Moorish’ fashions, including the forcibly converted Christian women from covering themselves as they used to when they were Muslim. Policing a Muslim woman’s dress choices is quite literally medieval.
It is no secret that Muslims have long been seen as the ‘other’ – whether it was in the context of Spain in the 16th century, or Samuel P Huntington’s Clash of the Civilizations, Islam has been consistently painted as not only antithetical to Western society, but as a threat to it, when the reality is that in Islamic teaching there is no such concept of “East” and “West” as the geo-political terms that we use today. The Holy Prophet of Islam (may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), categorically stated ‘love for one’s nation is a part of faith.’
It must be clearly articulated, the difference between integration and abandoning one’s faith is vast. I do not need to show my hair in order to be good at my job. I certainly do not need to show my hair in order to be a contributing member to society. Such a law is not encouraging Muslim women living in the EU to ‘integrate’ but is in fact forcing them to withdraw into themselves and out of the public sphere. It is a lose-lose situation for Muslim women. Ultimately, our choice and liberty is not one that is convenient or respected and employers and law makers have taken it upon themselves, once again, to speak for Muslim women. By consistently doing so, we are further cementing the narrative that Muslim civilization is incompatible with Western civilization which could not be further from the truth and is, instead, only fanning flames.
 “”The Abencerraje” and “Ozmin and Daraja”” pp.116-117