Imagine applying for a job online. You’ve completed the steps listed: a professional resume, application questions, and a photo of yourself. You wouldn’t usually apply for a job like this, but you’re excited about the challenge and prepared for it. However, you show up for the interview and the manager of the company takes one look at you and says to their colleague, “How can it be that you’ve allowed this woman to come speak with me?”
Shilan Ahmad was wearing a hijab when the director at her job interview said those exact words to her face.
Today, democratic countries like France, Canada, Germany, and India have either banned hijabs or discriminated against women who wear the hijab. Hijabis are disproportionately targeted by these bills, votes, and actions that government officials, corporations, and other people in higher positions have made and enforced. Muslim women around the world are having their religious freedom taken away from them for the sake of keeping “church and state” separate. Hijabis are grappling with the idea of being forced out of work, school, and other public spaces or being forced to take off a significant piece of religious symbolism. Muslim, Hijabi women are having opportunities taken away from them simply due to their hijabs. Little Muslim girls may choose to not wear the hijab when they hit puberty because of these laws that hinder their future careers. This is something that many women—Christian, Catholic, Atheist, etc.—don’t have to deal with in public life. Dealing with sexism in the workplace is an issue within itself, but hijabis have to deal with Islamophobia as well. In this new wave of feminism, doesn’t it seem hypocritical to leave Muslim women out of our next generation of leaders?
Fatemeh Anvari, an elementary school teacher, is not able to wear her hijab at work because of Bill 21, which bans Québécois (a person from Québec) teachers, lawyers, police officers, etc. from wearing religious symbols like hijabs, crosses, turbans, and yarmulkes. Theoretically, civil servants could be exempt from the bill if they had their job before March 2019, never moved cities, never changed employers, or never got promoted. However, since Anvari had been hired as a substitute teacher a couple of months later and signed a new contract, she is not allowed to wear her hijab. Therefore, Anvari was forced out of teaching her class and transferred to a literacy project on diversity and inclusion… how ironic. This law disproportionately affects civil servants who are women because they account for 74.5% of Quebec’s education sector.
As for Sarah Zemmahi, a French Engineer running for a local government council position, her center-leaning political party, La République En Marche!, withdrew support after she wore her hijab in a campaign poster. Stanislas Guerini, co-founder of La République En Marche! (LREM), tweeted “Wearing ostentatious religious symbols on a campaign document is not compatible with the values of LREM,” and “Either these candidates change their photo, or LREM will withdraw its support.”
Nour Farhat, a hijabi living in Québec, dreamed of being a Crown prosecutor—a government-paid lawyer—until Bill 21 stopped her from being able to. Farhat is now representing a teacher’s union that is suing Québec over the inequality of Bill 21.
Islamophobia has always been present around the world, but within the past 20 years, there’s been a dramatic increase. In Quebec, Canada, six Muslims were killed and 19 were injured in a 2017 mosque shooting. A Montreal police report showed 58% of hate crimes in 2018 involved Muslim victims even though Muslim-Canadians only represent about 3% of the province’s population.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, a 2019 French study “found that 44.6% of the country considered Muslims a threat to French national identity, while a government survey from the same year listed that 42% of Muslims (other studies put the figure at 58%) reported experiencing discrimination due to their religion, a number that increased to 60% for women who wore a headscarf” (Time).
France has even gone further with their “anti-separatism” bills by prohibiting burkinis—a swimsuit that covers the entire body—, preventing hijabi moms from wearing hijabs on their children’s school trips, and banning anyone wearing religious symbols “from taking part in a sporting event or a competition hosted by a federation or sports association” (Washington Post). This ban could potentially affect hijabi athletes in the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
Even the European Court of Justice ratified a 2017 ruling that allowed employers to have “neutrality”/secularism policies banning religious symbols in the workplace. While these laws, bills, and policies could affect anyone wearing a religious symbol, it unethically targets hijabis.
Secularizing laws meant to separate church and state have only put Muslim women in even more vulnerable positions. Wearing a hijab makes Muslim women more likely targets for hate crimes all around the world. Being a hijabi isn’t something that can change with a snap of the finger. It is a way of life, a religious symbol, a dedication to Allah, a form of modesty, and so much more. The right to practice religion freely is being taken away by so many Muslim women who have chosen to wear the hijab. Countries that pride themselves on freedom, equality, liberalism, and forward-thinking are gradually revealing their true colors. Muslim women get left behind in the strides toward equity and justice. So keep this in mind the next time you’re interviewed for a job with no questions asked, knowing that not every woman has equal access to these opportunities.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/04/21/france-hijab-ban-vote-exclusion/ https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/04/20/quebec-canada-religious-hijab-turban-ban/ https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/07/world/canada/quebec-religious-symbols-ban.html