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Muslim Women Share Their Thoughts on Europe's New Headscarf Ban

A top European court just ruled that employers can legally ban employees from wearing headscarves to work. Six Muslim women tell us how they feel about the controversial ruling.

by Salma Haidrani
Mar 16 2017, 2:55pm

Photo courtesy of subject

Earlier this week, Europe's top court ruled that headscarves can now be banned at work. The landmark European Court of Justice ruling is one in a long line that appears to target Muslims, from the controversial Casey Report in Britain last December (which claimed that Muslim communities in Britain were self-segregating themselves) to Trump's recent travel ban—and ironically enough, their voices seem to be erased from the entire debate.

Muslim women are already at a disadvantage when it comes to jobs. The UK Women and Equalities Committee found in 2016 that Muslim women are three times as likely to be unemployed and looking for a job than non-Muslim women—and the decision on headscarves could isolate them from the workplace even further.

According to the new ruling, workplace bans on "any political, philosophical or religious sign" do not constitute direct discrimination. It's worth bearing in mind that the policy extends to all religious symbols (such as crucifixes and turbans), but there's little doubt that it is yet another way to police Muslim women bodies and choices—just like the burkini ban imposed by several French towns last summer, which climaxed in armed police forcing women on the beach to remove some of their clothing.

So how do Muslim women—the same ones who are the subject of these policies—feel about the ruling? Here, five people talk to us about the new development.

Photo courtesy of subject

Afia, 23

I'd say disheartened is the word I'd use to sum up my initial reaction. But I don't expect anyone to consider what I have to say because it seems that these policies are trying to rid me of my voice.

I work, study and I'm a mother and I strongly feel that a policy like this will be counterproductive, with women like myself suffering the brunt and fallout of the decision. I look at my educational career, my degree, and I think, What was the point? What's the point if I'll be stopped from actually doing anything because of a piece of clothing? A piece of clothing that doesn't make me any less able than my colleagues.

I've become immune to seeing such discouraging developments, and if anything, I feel as though this isn't the worst of it. I've already been asked to condemn the idiotic acts that ignorant people have done in the name of my religion. So am I affected much? Not anymore.

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Asma, 26

As someone who's trying to make sports inclusive and keep pushing role models for Muslim women so that we can go out and achieve everything we want in the sports field, which would obviously translate into other aspects of our lives... And then something like this happens.

It's about fear of the unknown. They don't know how human we are. It's all down to the media. They've been inflating Islamophobia and has been pushing this ideology that people should fear us. They've allowed it to escalate it to the point where women's lives are getting affected. We keep saying we're open-minded and want to give Muslim women freedoms but we just keep deducting them. It's disheartening.

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Tahmeena, 25

As someone who has many family members who wear the headscarf, I'm extremely hesitant about the future. We seem to be championing women's rights and liberation, but at the same time excluding Muslim women from the fight. We're fighting for rights but not Muslim women's rights. We're fighting for freedom, and most importantly, the choice to wear what we want, but not Muslim women's choice to wear what they want. We seem to be selective about who and what we support under the false pretence of fighting for equality for everyone.

There's no liberation in being told what to wear, how to act, in order to "become" liberated, it defeats the purpose. People seem to think that the choice that we as Muslims make to cover up is a sign of oppression, when in fact it's a step that is taken with pride. Yet that choice is continuously being doubted and scrutinised. That doesn't sound like liberation, it sounds more like people wanting to police women's bodies to fit in with what they deem as "liberated."

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Fauzi, 22

I don't know how to feel anymore—it's bombshell after another after another. Bottom line, I would not be surprised if this policy came to the UK. If my employer ever implemented this, I would quit. I won't be subjected to such cruelty or denied my right to my faith.

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Lina, 24

I'm less shocked, more angry and exhausted that once again, we're being told what to wear. It's 2017, FFS. Where's the "neutrality" when an employer singles out religious clothing to be removed? Why are the irrational prejudices of others being valued above individual rights?

The people who accuse Muslims of oppressing women are now dictating what we should wear. We're being told to integrate. And we do. To then be told that we must uncover or face unemployment, thus stripping ourselves, quite literally, from our own identities and our livelihoods...

There's a clearly a global misogynistic trend to dictate what Muslim women should wear. Like the burkini ban before it, this isn't about protecting secularism. It's about dictating how religion should be practiced in a way that's palatable to the white Western gaze.

I have absolutely no doubt Muslim women will continue to be resilient even after this ruling, as they always have been.

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Yasmin, 24

In a pitiful attempt to disguise the fact that the ruling targets hijab wearing women with surgical precision, the court added that the decision extends to all visible religious symbols. The message is clear: Calm down, we're discriminating against religious people in general. As if that is not an injustice in itself.

Muslim women—and hijab wearing women in particular—face enormous challenges in gaining employment in this anti-Muslim, sexist job market and know employers likely won't hire them or might dismiss them from work not long after wearing a hijab. But this is never explicitly said by employers. This is what makes this case so significant.

The court's decision sends a message that Muslim women are not welcome in the workforce and by extension, the public sphere. Instead of empowering employers to encroach upon the civil liberties of Muslim women, the court needs to address why it perceives hijab wearing Muslim women as a threat.