European Ban of Islamic Headscarves in Workplaces: Will It Promote Widespread Racism in the Continent?

The European Court of Justice or ECJ recently ruled that prohibition of visible religious, philosophical or political signs included in the employees’ clothing is not leaning to outright discrimination. This means that the ECJ supports companies in Europe to prohibit female Muslim employees, most especially, to wear their traditional Islamic headscarves basically called hijab during work.

What Is a Hijab?

A hijab is a veil covering a Muslim woman’s face, head or chest as part of the tradition to partly conceal her appearance in front of men who are not members of her immediate family. Privacy and modesty are the standard goals of this garment among Muslim women. Hijab can also be considered as a way to seclude women from the male population in public, even some sort of a metaphysical symbol of separating humans from God.

Talking about modesty, the Qur’an has a very elaborate standard when it comes to this idea. It states that modesty already covers both genders’ “gaze, gait, garments and genitalia.” It orders Muslim women to wear modest clothing. Their typical clothing to live up to the standards of the Qur’an covers them from head to toe, except the feet, hands and face. However, some people believe that the Qur’an did not exactly order women to wear hijab. They rely on the idea that outside texts or verses just referenced or appeared after the Qur’an.

The word “hijab” in the Qur’an refers to a curtain or partition, literally or metaphorically. The common understanding is that the hijab talks about the curtain separating Muhammad’s wives from the visitors. That’s why some analysts believe that the hijab was just referring to the prophet’s wives, not Muslim women in general.

As generations passed, wearing hijab publicly became part of the law in countries such as Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

History

Before Islam, the veil was already a prominent part of clothing for women with a very meaningful purpose. In some ancient civilizations, only respectable women wore it. Slaves and prostitutes could not wear it ever. Female aristocrats were not available for the public so they were the ones who could only wear veils.

According to archaeological proofs, Muhammad did not introduce veiling. Instead, it was already a custom of clothing existing in towns which Muhammad took seriously. History dictates that Persian and Byzantine empires, where wearing veils was popular, were monotheistic for Islam. That’s why ideas from the Qur’an regarding modesty were probably taken from those empire’s cultures. Elite female Arabs started wearing veils then the style gradually took over all Muslim women in the Middle East. Veils took a long time influencing women in the rural areas because the garment was not fit for field work. So, as time goes by, wearing veil becomes a symbol of a Muslim woman who does not need to work because of her rich husband or family.

Types of Hijab

Hijab actually has different practices and styles all over the world. A survey has been conducted that the headscarf is the most appropriate type to be worn in public according to respondents in Turkey, Tunisia, Iraq and Egypt. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia prefers the niqab veil to cover most of the face. Meanwhile, many respondents in Lebanon opt for no hijab at all.

Interestingly, the male population of some countries are the ones who want to enforce modesty in women’s clothing. But, more and more Muslim women fight for their right to wear any kind of clothing they want. In particular, women who got to study in universities became less conservative in style.

Some Muslim women are fashion-forward that they wear turbans instead of hijab. Still, some conservative people criticized this because leaving the neck exposed is not proper.

Let’s talk more about the major styles of veils:

Burka or Burqa

Popularly related to the Afghan chadri, the burqa covers the whole body even the face. Specifically, the chadri covers the eyes but because of the netting, the woman can still see.

PKKH | Pakistan Ka Khuda Hafiz

Niqab

This term is commonly confused with burqa. Niqab is a garment covering the upper body and face but not the eyes. It is kind of related to the Arabian style of wearing the veil which only covers what’s below the eyes. Because of the niqab’s excessive coverage, it became a political controversy for how many years now.

Shutterstock/The Georgia Straight

How Important Is the Hijab?

Simple, hijab is already a part of Muslim tradition among women for how many centuries already. It may be irrational for the more independent and liberated female Muslim population, but hijab is still one of the most prominent things representing the religion. It would be like prohibiting Catholics to wear necklaces with cross pendants. Hijab represents a Muslim woman’s identity, religion and history. Without it, she would just blend with the crowd in a non-Islamic country.

Hijab is so important to Muslim culture that the practice even has an annual celebration every February 1. World Hijab Day was started in 2013 by Nazma Khan. It encourages women from all walks of life to wear hijab in order to experience a hijabi woman’s daily life in public.

South Asian Generation Next

When the European hijab ban started to dominate the news in some countries, the Muslim Council of Britain or MCB was disappointed because the ban would signify inequality and injustice. People like Phil Pepper, Shakespeare Martineau’s employment law partner, believed that the ban would give “grey areas” for a lot of workers. He stated that neutrality in dress code is not a realistic idea in today’s offices.

Another statement was from the Commons Women and Equalities Committee chair Maria Miller who said that the enforcement of neutral dress code would just worsen the already-rampant discrimination of Muslim women.

Going further with what the MCB is fighting for, the hijab ban would imply to the close-minded people that discrimination is now normal against religious communities. It does not celebrate diversity and faith. Based on what the proposed ban dictates, Muslim communities are not the only ones affected by this ruling. All religious communities would be in trouble, so this issue is really a big deal for Europe.

Final Thoughts

I find it hard to accept that despite how modern and liberated our general society is today, racial discrimination is still rampant. Technology keeps on moving forward, but some principles are still going backwards. When the dress code restrictions would finally be established in Europe, I’m sure tension would emerge in workplaces and public areas. That’s never ideal for a civilized community.