EU’s highest Court rules on headscarf at work

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has been asked to make a decision on two cases related to the wearing of religious signs at work. In both cases, a French and a Belgian one, the headscarf was the bone of contention. The CJEU finally issued a joint judgment this tuesday.

Two stories, one common issue

The Belgian Samira Achbita did not wear a headscarf in 2003 when she started to work as a receptionist for the security company G4S. In 2006, she declared to her employer that she intended to start wearing it… She was then dismissed.

As for the French Asma Bougnaoui, she started working as a design engineer for the IT consultancy firm Micropole in 2008. At this time, she already had a headscarf on. One day, a customer of the company complained about that. This complaint was transmitted by the company to Mrs Bougnaoui, who chose to reject it and refused to remove her headscarf… She was also dismissed.

National Courts from Belgium and France have asked the ECJ to give a ruling on these cases. Though the stories slightly differ, the main issue was to know if a company was justified to dismiss an employee for wearing a headscarf or if this constituted a case of discrimination.

The Court’s decision

For EU’s highest Court, forbidding headscarf on the workplace does not constitute a direct discriminatory act as long as the internal rule of the company proscribes any visible political, philosophical or religious sign and if this policy is justified by an essential occupational requirement:

“An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination. However, in the absence of such a rule, the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the employer’s services provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered an occupational requirement that could rule out discrimination”.

Hence, the Court stated in favor of the company in the Belgian case, arguing that the company was following its genuine policy of “image neutrality”. As for the French case however, the Court stated that the complainant had indeed been discriminated against, since the demand to remove the headscarf only followed the complaint from a customer and not a consistent policy of neutrality at work.

What are the implications of this ruling?

Right wing and far right personalities welcome this ruling as a victory, since this now allows companies to ban the headscarf in the workplace, as we can see for instance from Gilbert Collard’s tweet , a French MP working for Marine le Pen : “Even the CJEU votes for Marine”. However, one must remember that this long awaited judgment also demands the prohibiting of religious signs to be stated and justified by a consistent internal rule of the company. The prohibition of religious signs is thus limited and must happen only under certain specific conditions :

“Such indirect discrimination may be objectively justified by a legitimate aim, such as the pursuit by the employer, in its relations with its customers, of a policy of political, philosophical and religious neutrality, provided that the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary”.

The diverging views on the ruling of the CJEU 

For the supporters of the ruling, the issue of religious signs at work needed to be clarified and employers and human resources now have a clearer frame to deal with religious signs at work. In its ruling, the Court judged in favor of the company when a neutral image was part of its objective “identity”, but in favor of the complainant when the demand to remove the headscarf was the result of a subjective process, not connected to an essential occupational requirement.

However, for the critics of this ruling, the CJEU now opens the way to the implementation of more restrictive internal rules in private companies. It gives the latter more power to decide on their employees’ outfit, on the subjective basis of the “image” of the company. Also, and even though the ruling does not specifically concern Muslims, it seems to endorse a general European tendency to target Muslim believers’ visibility in the public space and may de facto contribute to exclude them from the job market.

By Farida Belkacem

Sources :

http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2017-03/cp170030en.pdf

One year after attacks, French Muslims speak

One year after the November 2015 Paris attacks Le Monde published a collection of thoughts and commentaries from France’s Muslims. Glimpses into their lives reveal anxiety, sadness, hope and defiance, among other sentiments.

“I felt like half of a citizen,” said Tahar Mouci, who owns a bar in the 20th arrondissement.

“The Monday following the attacks I found out that I was assigned to house arrest under the State of Emergency,” recalls Anis M., a truck driver from Nice.

“I decided to enlist in the Army Reserves,” said Habiba M., while Louiza A. remembers her professor pointing to her veil and asking “what’s that for?” following the November 2015 attacks.

Click here to read the complete article.

Portrait of Suspect in Boston Is Disputed

Rahimah Rahim, a nurse, had tears in her eyes as she clasped the hand of her eldest son, Ibrahim, formerly a local imam. Behind them stood Usaamah Rahim’s wife, her face shrouded in a black veil.
It was the family’s first public appearance since Mr. Rahim, 26, was killed Tuesday by an F.B.I. agent and a police officer after the authorities said he threatened them with a large knife. A lawyer for the family, Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., said that they knew nothing of his alleged affinity for Islamic extremists, nor of the reported threat to behead police officers.
A Boston imam and the aunt of the 26-year-old Roslindale man killed by police and the FBI on Tuesday say he was not a terrorist and blamed his “murder” on the media, an investigation gone awry and the strained relationship between cops and black men.
 “Usaamah was tuned in a lot with online Islam,” said Yahya Abdullah Rivero, who attended mosque with Mr. Rahim in Miami. “He kept an ear to everything that was mentioned about Islam online. I know he used to listen to some extreme imams online.”
 Robert S. Sullivan Jr., the lawyer for Usaamah Rahim’s family, on Thursday in the CVS parking lot in Boston where Mr. Rahim was killed on Tuesday. Credit Sean Proctor for The New York Times
Robert S. Sullivan Jr., the lawyer for Usaamah Rahim’s family, on Thursday in the CVS parking lot in Boston where Mr. Rahim was killed on Tuesday. Credit Sean Proctor for The New York Times

Muslim woman harassed by men in Paris

July 17, 2014

Just before midnight on July 3 a veiled Muslim woman was returning to her home in Paris’s banlieue. As she approached her home two men began to harass her. They began to push and insult her, saying “‘We’re going to make you break Ramadan, we’re going to make you try pork and drink alcohol, we’re going to show you what it is to be a submissive woman,’” the woman reported. “‘One of the two put his foot on my head, while the other kicked my arms and stomach. The one who had the white hat began to straddle my chest’” and exposed himself to her saying “‘this is what a real man looks like.”

They continued to insult her and hit her and sexually harass her. “‘I told them that if they wanted my phone I would give it to them,’” she said. “’The one with the white hat took it and hit it against a railing. Then he threw it on the ground.’” Then one of them tore her veil off her head and “‘pretended to masturbate on it. He told me that from now on that was what my veil was good for. I heard laughter from farther away. The two men turned around and left immediately.’” Shocked, she remained in her house for over a week and has recently submitted a complaint for “sexual assault” and “aggravated violence.”

European Human Rights Court Upholds France’s Burqa Ban

July 1, 2014

On Tuesday, July 1 the European Court of Human Rights voted, by a large majority, to uphold France’s ban of the full veil. A young Frenchwoman challenged the law that was instituted in 2010 and which calls for a 150-euro fine for anyone wearing the full veil in public. The decision is largely viewed as a triumph for France and Belgium, which are the only two countries in Europe to institute such legislation. The victory gives other countries the right to enact similar laws.

The French government had argued that the ban was in the interest of public safety and in support of women who may be forced to wear the full veil. However, many critics contend that the law is discriminatory and targets Muslims and religious minorities, violating the principles of freedom of religion and freedom of expression. In response to the ruling Elsa Ray, spokeswoman for the Muslim advocacy group CCIF argued, “Some people now feel entitled to attack women wearing the veil even though the infringement is no more severe than, say, a parking ticket.”

The law was challenged by a woman only identified by her initials, S.A.S., who decided to wear either a niqab or a burqa without any pressure from her family. S.A.S. contends that the French ban constituted a violation of her religious freedom, and could potentially lead to “discrimination and harassment.”

The French government argued, “showing one’s face in public was one of the ‘minimum requirements of life in society.’” The court decided that the ban cannot be justified as a public safety measure or as a protector of women’s rights, but that “the barrier raised against others by a veil concealing the face was perceived by the respondent state as breaching the right of others to live in a space of socialization which made living together easier.”

The highly contentious decision, which cannot be appealed, has already sparked protests from several groups. James Goldstone, executive director of the Open Society Justice initiative, filed a third-party intervention on the ruling and said, “Coming at a time when hostility to ethnic and religious minorities is on the rise in many parts of Europe, the court’s decision is an unfortunate missed opportunity to reaffirm the importance of equal treatment for all and the fundamental right to religious belief and expression.” He continued, “The majority has failed adequately to protect the rights of many women who wish to express themselves by what they wear.”

However, a spokesman for the French foreign ministry confirmed that the government viewed the ruling as a success because it “reflected France’s commitment to gender equality.”

Ten Years On: The Ban on the Muslim Veil in France Raises Continuing Questions

March 23, 2014

 

The report published by the newspaper le Monde on the 10th anniversary of France’s ban on the Muslim veil in public educational institutions in France deserves to be read and meditated to draw the main conclusion on the French model of secularism in facilitating discrimination against Muslims.

 

The editors of the report confirm that there has been wide compliance with the French law banning the wearing of the hijab by Muslim girls in public schools.  However, that result does not mean that the law has addressed or resolved the problems it was intended to address, and in fact it may have created more problems.  Indeed, the choices for girls are limited: girls either choose to adhere to their faith and permanently abandon their studies as has happened in some rare cases, or they move to private institutions with all of the related financial burdens, or they study by correspondence, or, finally, they comply with the law by removing the veil, and put it on again at the end of the academic term.

 

The effects of this law have not been limited to public educational institutions, but have expanded into the whole public space.  This broadening of the ban occurred in 2010 with new laws adopted in secular Europe, banning the Muslim veil in public places. It didn’t stop there, however.  As a result of actions of both the right and the left in 2013, the request was made to ban the veil in public halls and theaters, and also in private companies. And then things got even more extensive, reaching mothers accompanying their children to school:  should or shouldn’t they be allowed to wear their veils?

 

In 2003, the sociologist Jean Baubérot (the only one to have abstained from voting on the ban on veils in the Stasi Commission that is charged with implementing the secularism system in France) had a long-term vision because he believed that over time, the veil ban would lead to the demonization of this religious symbol and the despising submission of Muslim women… and if the veil were banned in public educational institutions, later inevitably the ban would be adopted elsewhere with further laws enacted. And this is what actually happened. Things began with banning the veil/headscarf in schools, then in public spaces, and now the regulation is becoming widespread everywhere.  And who knows, perhaps tomorrow there will be new justifications for imposing the French secular model into the private sphere!

But the truth is that this narrow view of the interpretation of the secularism notion in France, in opposition to the wider and more informed conception “in vogue” in several European nations, has found its starting point in the idea of protecting secularism. But such an approach will inevitably lead to a pernicious form of racism against Muslims, and it will extend to their private space, in violation of the principle of freedom of belief. More serious again, the veil will give rise to a dangerous phobia of Muslims in France, for no other reason than the active presence of people who prefer the safe approach to the application of secularism, without worrying about finding intermediate solutions and/or gateways between respect for individual freedom and the neutrality of the State towards religions.

So what would France have lost if it had bypassed the problem by considering the veil as a sign of cultural belonging and not a religious symbol, such as in the United Kingdom, where the government adopted a more intelligent attitude which harmonized the two great secular principles (public neutrality towards religions and protection of individual freedoms), but did not infringe upon the freedoms of Muslim women?

Great Britain and other European countries have succeeded in using this approach to avoid dangerous endeavors that inevitably lead to the demonization of the Muslim veil and then to the demonization of Muslims in general and, even more generally, the demonization of Islam as a religion. The failure of the French policy is that it arrives at exactly the opposite of secularism, namely racism and incitement to hatred.

Therefore, we believe that 10 years after the implementation of the law on the veil, and the events that have followed after that in France, it is necessary that French secularism not only revises its founding principles, but also its security approaches that have redefined somehow these same principles. The goal now in France should be to pursue a course that takes greater account of the more moderate and open European secular models.

 

Source: http://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2014/03/126164/ten-years-on-the-ban-on-the-muslim-veil-in-france-raises-continuing-questions/

Muslim woman will not testify after being told she must remove face veil

January 27, 2014

 

A Muslim woman standing trial in a full-face veil, who was told she must remove it if she gives evidence in her defence, will not take to the witness box, a court has heard. Rebekah Dawson, 22, has been allowed to appear at her trial for alleged witness intimidation in a niqab showing just her eyes. The trial judge, Peter Murphy, ruled last September that she could wear the Islamic garment in court but he said she would have to let the jury of five women and seven men see her face if she gave evidence.

Her barrister, Susan Meek, told the jury at Blackfriars crown court in London on Monday that she would not be giving evidence in her own defence.

Earlier in the trial, Murphy told the jury that Dawson was “fully entitled” to dress how she chose to in court. He told jurors to put aside any feelings they might have about her appearance because they would have nothing to do with the case.

 

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/jan/27/muslim-woman-face-veil-court-trial-witness

Veil, Women and Islam: who decides appropriate public dress?

January 21, 2014

 

Veil, Women and Islam: who decides appropriate public dress?
Veil, Women and Islam: who decides appropriate public dress?

“What dress is most appropriate for a Muslim woman in public?”

Researchers at the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan asked the same question to both men and women of various age groups and different religious faiths in seven countries with a Muslim majority. The real focus of the research was post- revolution Tunisia, but scholars also decided to investigate responses in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan. Each respondent was shown images of women. The left most image showed a women who was totally covered (burqa ), decreasing the pieces of cloth covering the woman from image to image until the last drawing, which depicted the subject as completely uncovered.

The findings concluded that on average the hijab (veil that covers the hair, forehead, ears and neck) was considered the most appropriate. You could say this is a compromise between the two extreme images. Another important aspect that the research shows is the partial open-ness to different styles of dress in Saudi Arabia as opposed to a greater closure in “post-spring” Egypt.

The research also included a question that went beyond mere aesthetics. Respondents were also asked: “Should the woman decide what to wear?

And this confirms the above trend:  in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Turkey, and Tunisia, 50% of respondents where in favor of the free choice of women, as opposed to 22% and 14% in Pakistan and Egypt, respectively.

I must say that by scrolling through the research data, I returned several times to the word used in the original question: appropriate.

What do the researchers mean by this term? Appropriate for whom? For others or for the woman? Who can decide when attire is appropriate or not?

Beyond the specific object of this analysis, veil or no veil, I am always convinced that there is only one parameter to decide how a woman should dress: personal choice. Do not take me for naive, I am aware of the incendiary debates that surround these issues, especially in our cities. In my opinion, the most appropriate clothing is what makes a woman feel free and proud to express herself regardless of expectations or fashions of the moment.

The external influences on not only clothing but also on the image of a woman’s own body, is not unique to Muslim women, but rather something that applies to all women in the world. Let me give you another example. Last year a global campaign was launched called “Dark is beautiful” with the aim to emphasize the beauty of dark skin in societies like the West where fair skin is favored. The pressures of fair skin often prompt many black women to resort to toxic products that promise to lighten skin. We must reverse this situation.

Corriere della sera: http://lacittanuova.milano.corriere.it/2014/01/21/velo-donne-islam-qual-e-labbigliamento-giusto-in-pubblico-e-chi-lo-decide/

Original report: http://mevs.org/files/tmp/Tunisia_FinalReport.pdf

 

“Maybe we are hated” – The experience and impact of anti-Muslim hate on British Muslim women

“Maybe we are hated” – The experience and impact of anti-Muslim hate on British Muslim women

 

Authors: Dr Chris Allen, Dr Arshad Isakjee and Özlem Ögtem Young

 

Overview and website: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/social-policy/departments/applied-social-studies/news-and-events/2013/11/lifting-the-veil-on-anti-muslim-hate-crimes-against-british-women.aspx

“I’ll tell you why I chose Islam” by Anna Assumma

October 30, 2013

 

By Anna Assumma

An Italian girl like many others. But she converts to Islam and decides to veil herself from head to foot. Hers is a choice that disturbs everyone: except her.

She’s a girl like any other, or perhaps she was a little brighter than others. She studied humanistic scientific studies before this, getting good grades and dreaming of dedicating her life after graduation to biotechnology, looking for new drugs to eradicate deadly degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Until a few years ago she always wore jeans. Sure, the pants were always accompanied with a tunic just above the knee and a headscarf. And then what? “Then there was the devotion to a new science,” she says smiling, Because she, Fatima – Giulia, smiles a lot.

Here is where our story begins. My interview began with a sinking heart. Seeing her completely covered in layers of black fabric (the white was only for marriage), no mouth, nose, eyes, hands only – which were gloved – her voice like a bearer of sunlight. Her gaze was clear, and even more with the youthful liveliness that makes its way from under the blanket that obscures her person.

 

L’Espresso: http://espresso.repubblica.it/visioni/societa/2013/10/30/news/vi-racconto-perche-ho-scelto-l-islam-1.139529#gallery-slider=1-139086