Banning the Hijab

 

By Kortnie Dean

 

The past few years, Muslim women have been forced to choose between their religion and their desire to work, attend institutions and participate in sports. Islamic clothing such as the burqa, the hijab or the khimar has been banned by several countries and is highly debated in others. One of the most controversial bans took place in France in 2004, but other countries such as Tunisia, Syria and Turkey have also prohibited Muslim women from wearing their headscarves and other Islamic attire in government buildings and educational institutions. Not only has there been legislative action towards the banning, but recreational organizations have created regulations that prohibit players from wearing headscarves. Employers are also cracking down on  employees who refuse to take off their hijab while working. Schools and universities have also considered eliminating hijabs on their campuses.

There are many reasons why this issue is significant right now. The banning of the hijab is tied in with issues of immigration as well as discrimination and equality. Institutions are ruling out the hijab for various reasons including uniformity and diversity but they are risking the creation of discrimination and the support of Islamophobia.

The hijab is an article of clothing that supports diversity. While sports teams, universities and companies claim that they appreciate a diverse environment, many of these organizations contradict themselves by forbidding the hijab. From baseball to soccer, sports are known for their diverse rosters. FIFA, the international governing body of football, has banned the wearing of any scarf that covers the ears, neck and majority of the head of the player. This situation has created a great amount of tension between players and the sport on the grounds of religious intolerance and unfairness. Particularly, the women’s soccer team of Iran has received a great amount of attention for not being allowed to play against Jordan in 2012. Of course, the decision is up to the players where or not they will take off their jijab but it is unfortunate that they have to make the choice between their religion and desire to play soccer. They should be allowed to show their strengths and skills in the sport as other women are able to. Soccer is known as a well rounded sport and prides itself in its thousands of players and range of participants. Sports have always had the platform for ethical decision making, particularly in regards to prejudices and equality of players. Instead of taking the initiative to show audiences that the organization accepts religious diversity, FIFA has opted to ban a team whose only desire is to play the sport that they love.

With the discussion of the hijab comes the issue of equal rights. As a nation, America asserts the freedom of religion, yet there is distinct tension between our country and those with Islamic beliefs. Unfortunately, this has led to the unjust correlation between Muslims and negative stereotypes. Although stereotypes exist, everyone should have equal opportunities to work and play without fearing that their religion will create tension or enable them from participating. In recent news, a young woman of San Mateo, California was fired for refusing to remove her hijab while working. Hani Khan, an employee of Hollister Co., part of Abercrombie and Fitch, has sued the company with the help of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. History shows that Abercrombie and Fitch has had similar situations in the past with previous employees. Many people feel that the retail company was only insisting on the uniformity of their employees and not discriminating against them. It is interesting to note that Hani Khan was well aware of the dress code of her job and her employers informed her that wearing the hijab was okay as long as it matched the store’s colors. It was later, during a visit from the district manager, that she was given the ultimatum. What is important to see from this situation is that many women are given these choices between their religion and their employment. As a “religiously tolerant” society, should we allow this treatment to continue? Where do we draw the line between following the regulations at work and making important personal choices, as Khan does?

There are many arguments that support the banning of hijabs in sports and educational facilities. Along with FIFA’s case that hijabs were supportive of a religious belief, is their claim that they are unsafe for players. The commissioner has claimed that the headscarves of the women can provoke choking and strangulation. While this idea is possible, it does appear a little farfetched. There are several scenarios that could create injury in soccer, and headscarves do not seem to attract any harm to the players. Is this just an excuse to stop the women from wearing the hijab? The organization’s authorities seem to be creating reasons when their previous cases do not hold up. An example of this can be found in the story surrounding the American Muslim woman Kulsoom Abdullah. Abdullah has made the news because of her creation of a 44 page packet that describes an alternate dress code that would adhere to the rules of the International Weightlifters Association. The Muslim woman, like many others, will not settle with the banning of the hijab. Why should she? If Abdullah has created an efficient and safe way for her to maintain her religious beliefs and participate in weightlifting then there should no longer be a problem. That is of course unless the authorities decide to create another reason for the prohibition, as they often do. Once her argument is resolved, will she be allowed to participate or will the organization fall back on issues of uniformity? It is important to understand what the organizations such as FIFA and the International Weightlifters Association are basing their ban on. The safety of the players is understandable, but if a reasonable negotiation is reached then safety can be taken away from discussion.

The most common argument for the banning of the hijab in government, educational and recreational facilities is that the piece of clothing is not uniform. Contradiction can be found in these organizations that declare their desires for diversity and a well rounded environment for students and workers. Sports, schools and businesses want their students, players and employees to look the same and not stand out. A school in Kenya has recently made the news as it strips young Muslim girls of the right to wear the hijab. Their reasoning focuses on the concept that all students should be looked at as equals. While this is an admirable idea, it also restrains many individuals from exercising their right to religion. Is it possible to apply this rule to all religions? If so, this would require students to eliminate any type of clothing or accessory that may insist on a particular religious belief. In the workplace, it is also understandable for employers to want their workers to conform to uniform or dress guidelines. But once again, this must be applicable to all of the employees. The insistence on uniformity of schools and businesses begs the question why are physical similarities in dress important? Is this an issue of catching unwanted attention or an issue of a symbolic representation of an equal working environment? In sports, the hijab obviously stands out. At the same time, so do tattoos, piercings, makeup and hairstyles. Chris Andersen, of the Denver Nuggets, is highly recognizable on the court because of his physical appearance. Should he be exempt from playing basketball because of his tattoos and hair? Perhaps he is allowed to be against the norm because there is no religious promotion occurring through his image. But what about the Heisman winner Tim Tebow, a well known quarterback who is proudly Christian? Should he have been allowed on the field with bible passages on his eye black? The NCAA did create a rule that banned players from writing messages or symbols on their eye black in 2010, but it took quite a long time of complaints and criticism for the NCAA to create the regulation, whereas the hijab seems to be an almost instant prohibition. Another example can be seen every Sunday in the NFL, where several players have decided to let their hair hang from their helmets. Not only is this not uniform, but it can be seen as a safety hazard. Why are the football players allowed to be different, but the Muslim women have to make a choice between their firm beliefs and the sport?

While some of the reasoning behind the ban of hijabs is understandable, it is mostly discriminatory. It is hard to differentiate when an institution or company is making the decision to prohibit the article on the issues that they claim or because of another underlying reason. Even if the reasons are not based on prejudice, how can they be seen in any other way? Western societies have a problem with characterizing people by their Eastern clothing. Many assume that a hijab or any other type of Islamic clothing for women is a symbol of oppression. It is important to acknowledge the fact that many Muslim women choose to wear their hijabs and do so proudly. Should such intense regulations be created and who are they ultimately benefiting? Many of the bans appear to be islamophobic and have no intention of actually protecting or supporting the women at all. Can these unjust laws be changed?  People like as Kulsoom Abdullah show that individuals are not giving up on their dreams and goals in sports, the workplace and in school settings. Organizations such as CAIR and EEOC are working to make sure people are not treated poorly in professional environments because of their religious beliefs. Humanly speaking, we should be concerned with this issue because it contradicts our beliefs in the freedom of religion and the liberty to pursue happiness.

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