Written by Karen Jayes
The Muslim woman, in wearing the headscarf, is the most visual representation of Islam in western societies. Because of this, in the wake of violent incidents such as that which occurred at Westminster, she is in the first line of any Islamophobic backlash that inevitably ensues.
Equally Muslim women are thrust to the fore by the authorities in the fight against ‘extremism’. It seems Muslim women cannot escape the scrutiny and politicisation of their dress, which has only been exacerbated by the latest Hijab Ban.
The decision by the European Court of Justice to allow companies to ban the Muslim headscarf at their discretion is the next step along a continuum of discrimination and criminalisation of Muslims that began with counter terrorism laws and moved on to CVE policies and PREVENT.
This next step means criminalising Muslim women, who are increasingly seen as the ‘vehicles’ through which the state plans to tackle ‘extremism’. It is the Muslim woman’s ‘heart and mind’ that is now the counter-terrorism frontline.
Read more: Engaging with Muslim Communities should not be seen “through the lens of counter-extremism” says Women and Equalities Committee
This is not a surprising development given the unending global War on Terror, which has for decades institutionalised and enshrined Islamophobia in law through the demonisation of Islam.
We can confront the roots of Islamophobia and discrimination as we are individually able to. But we do not have to stand alone.
A counter-productive bullying tactic
Firstly, employees who are free to express their identity – be it in the form of a hijab, turban or kippah – are more committed and engaged employees. Those who feel censored or “different” are more likely to have poor experiences at work, which in turn affects productivity.
There are also countless of Muslim women in leadership and other roles who perform their tasks – especially managerial and client service roles – with even more effort simply because they wear a hijab and are aware that, in the current environment, they are important ambassadors for Islam.
But it is clear that productivity is not the concern here. If it was, such a counter-productive decision would not have been made.
Rather, the concern here is with normalising discrimination.
The decision – made by a non-Muslim group of mostly white men – is a cowardly, act with broad implications for society. It therefore demands a considered and united response.
The court absolves itself and companies become the arbiters of rights
Covering is in line with Allah’s command in the Qu’ran. It is an Islamic duty according to the majority of Muslims. The judges, by this decision, have intruded upon the personal and intimate spiritual affairs of Muslim women.
The ruling is a legalisation of discrimination that will primarily affect Muslim women but rather than coming out and admitting this, the court has conveniently passed the decision whether to ban the hijab or not, over to the boards of companies.
In doing so, the justice system is washing its hands of their responsibility to protect citizens’ rights to express their faith. Rather, the court has chosen to give further ascendance to the world of capital as the arbiter of rights.
This crucial point, which has broad implications for society, has been missed. But it has put Muslim women at the frontline in protecting and fighting not only for our Islamic identity, but also for a fair society.
A symbol of resistance and strength
It is unfortunate that Muslim women are being pressured into choosing between their right to wear what they want and their right to work. There are solutions, but they demand courage and innovation.
Muslim women must continue to wear their scarves and raise their voice in other creative ways to rally support in the workplace and beyond, and use this as a chance resist and fight back against state abuse, challenge and change perceptions of Islam, or hold Islamophobic practices up for ridicule.
This is what it means to be on the frontline.
Through our courage, the headscarf, far from being misperceived as a symbol of subjugation, will be seen for what it is: a powerful symbol of liberation through our obedience to our Lord alone.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)