Hijab: Tempest in a Headscarf

hijab woman musim headscarf
The woman’s hijab is being caught in a culture war based on intolerance

In June, a Jordanian woman was fired from her job for refusing to don a headscarf. She responded by filing suit against her Arab employer for unlawful dismissal, kicking off a media debate over how much tolerance is acceptable when Islamic and secular principles clash.

Vivian Salameh, a Christian, was assistant manager of corporate operations at the Jordan Dubai Islamic Bank since 2010. She told The National: “We are not in Iran, we are in Jordan, and we must continue to enjoy personal and religious freedoms as stipulated by our constitution. I respect the hijab (headscarf), but it represents Muslim women and I’m Christian.”

Christians make up nearly 4% of Jordan’s 6 million people.

Salameh is supported by the Jordanian Network of Civil Society Organization, which consists of 10 civil society and human rights organizations. Although the Ministry of Labor had approved the bank’s enforcement of new dress code regulations, that approval contradicted the Jordanian constitution.

It’s unfair to make them wear.

Both critics and supporters have posted views on dozens of websites. Conservatives accused her of using the case to distort the image of Islam. Some said an Islamic bank should deny employment to non-Muslims.  Others posture an alternate situation: what if a Muslim employee was forced to wear a crucifix?

Salameh worked for Jordan’s Industrial Development Bank for 25 years until it was acquired in 2010 by Jordan Dubai Islamic Bank, whose parent company is based in the United Arab Emirates. Last year, a new dress code was implemented, including waist-to-heel skirts and head covers for female employees. Women workers are also prohibited from wearing bright colors, tight pants, and high heels. She accepted the uniform, but refused to wear the hijab on grounds that it violated her religious beliefs. Five other Christian women employees willingly donned hijab.

A bank spokeswoman confirmed that the dismissal was based on Salameh’s refusal to comply with the uniform. The bank is an Islamic establishment, compliant with sharia law, and the dress code is intended to reflect conservative Muslim values. The bank’s head of corporate communication, Eman Afaneh, said the policy is like “McDonald’s where employees put on hats during working hours. It’s part of the uniform.”

There has been no follow-on news as to whether the court will hear the case, although one source has stated both sides are seeking to settle the matter outside of the legal system.

Jordan is representative of over 50 countries with majority Muslim populations where hijab use is unlegislated: it’s a personal matter. The hijab is not an explicitly religious symbol, but rather more of a cultural and personal approach to modesty. Many Muslim women don’t wear the hijab, but millions of others choose to. Only Iran and Saudi Arabia legally restrict women’s clothing.

It’s unfair to ban their wear.

Meanwhile, FIFA’s International Football Association Board formally approved use of headscarves for female Muslim players, reversing a ban on the Islamic hijab that’s been enforced since 2007. Soccer rules prohibit equipment that is dangerous or makes religious statements. The decision was announced last Thursday after FIFA’s medical committee tested two soccer hijab prototypes. designs after finding no safety threat in their use.

The soccer hijab uses a magnetic system that allows it to be opened and released instantly if the headscarf is pulled on.  The sport-friendly versions of the hijab are responsive to FIFA’s safety objections: they covers the hair and neck, and are made of breathable material.  Although the headscarf ban is now lifted, and the prototypes approved, FIFA said it will eventually choose an official version by October.

FIFA’s 2007 ban cited safety concerns. In rough play, athletes could be pulled by their hijab, risking serious injury. But ponytails can also be grabbed. Two years ago, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) defied FIFA’s ruling and allowed women players to wear the hijab in games.

Last year, the hijab-wearing Iranian soccer team was blocked from playing in Olympic qualifying matches held in Jordan. Three women on the Jordanian national team were also disqualified, as they too refused to remove their hijab prior to play.

In banning the hijab, FIFA effectively banned millions of Muslim women worldwide from playing soccer on the global level. The incidents incited heated global debate on the relationship between culture, sports and politics. Prince Ali of Jordan, FIFA vice-president for Asia, has said the traditional Islamic headscarf should not prevent Muslim women from taking part in Olympic football competitions. The United Nations has backed Prince Ali’s efforts, stating players have the right to wear a safe, Velcro-opening headscarf in FIFA-regulated matches and competitions.

Female Muslim athletes have been trapped between rising anti-Muslim sentiments and culture wars being fought mainly in North America and Europe. Lifting the ban expands women’s participation in the world’s most popular sport, and in so doing, casts light on cultural differences and more importantly, similarities. Tolerance grows from understanding and familiarity.

Let the games begin.

Image of woman in hijab from Shutterstock

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