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16th Jul 2021

Women can be sacked for wearing hijab, EU court rules

Kieran Galpin

Banning the hijab could only strengthen Islamophobia

A top court at the European Union has ruled that employers may ban the wearing of religious symbols or political beliefs.

“A prohibition on wearing any visible form of expression of political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace may be justified by the employer’s need to present a neutral image towards customers or to prevent social disputes,” said the Luxembourg-based tribunal.

“However, that justification must correspond to a genuine need on the part of the employer and, in reconciling the rights and interests at issue, the national courts may take into account the specific context of their Member State and, in particular, more favourable national provisions on the protection of freedom of religion.”

The issue was brought to court after two German women were suspended from their jobs after they began wearing hijabs. The special needs carer and a cashier at the Mueller pharmacy chain had not been wearing the hijab when they initially started working but had later decided to adorn themselves in the religious symbol, having come back from parental leave.

In the case of the care centre employee, the court said the employer’s request they remove their headscarf was fair as they had also asked another staff member to stop wearing a religious cross. It will be decided by the national court whether or not the women experienced overt discrimination or not.

Though the wearing of hijabs has been debated for years, largely by people not of the Muslim faith, rules such as these pose a moral issue. Though not all cases will be based on discrimination, rules such as these could be used to enforce an Islamophobic rhetoric.

“Europe’s obsession with Muslim women’s clothing choices and specifically the hijab is entwined with Islamophobia, racism and misogyny,” Shaista Aziz, an anti-racism and women’s rights campaigner, told The Independent.

“While the European continent grapples with Covid, rising levels of inequalities and social injustice – why is it that the hijab and Muslim women are the focus of politicians? These politicians are fuelling the far right and rampant anti-Muslim hate and Islamophobia.”