The hijab does not impede Muslim women from doing their job

There is no single definition of the relationship that someone can share with his or her religion

Yara al-Wazir
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Earlier this week, Kevin MacKenzie, former editor of The Sun questioned whether it was appropriate for a Muslim anchor that wears the hijab “to be on camera when there had been yet another shocking slaughter by a Muslim”. The woman he was referring to is Fatima Manji, an award-winning journalist who covered the attacks for the UK’s Channel 4.

Although the Independent Press Standards Organization (Ipso) received over 1,700 complaints about MacKenzie’s column in The Sun, including one by Fatima Manji herself, the thoughts and sentiments he shared in the column, including that the hijab was a “sign of slavery” could not be farther from the truth. Conceding to MacKenzie’s desire of all women to conform to his idea of what a female news presenter should look like, including deconstructing her belief system, which form a basis of her personality and the way that she presents herself, would in fact be a form of slavery.

Manji’s hijab is not what made MacKenzie, and those who share his thoughts, uncomfortable. The image of a strong powerful female Muslim who is successful, true to herself and her religion is what made them uneasy. Had Malala Yousafzai been presenting the news, would he have chosen to publish his column? Unlikely.

The hijab discussion at EU courts

After a woman who wears the hijab claimed unlawful dismissal due to religious discrimination in Brussels, the issue was taken to the EU court. In May, a top EU court advisor backed a workplace ban on hijabs, as long as it is in line with an outright ban on religious symbols for all employees.

There is no single definition of the relationship that someone can share with his or her religion.

Yara al-Wazir

The public must understand that there is no single definition of the relationship that someone can share with his or her religion, and so it cannot be “checked at the door”. Some see it as something they were born into and born with, much like their gender, whereas others see it as something private.

If a court can even suggest that it should have the authority to stop its employees from visual representations of their religion, then what is next? Will women have to wear sports bras to hide the fact that they are women? Will people be asked to not wear their wedding rings to work to hide their relationship status? Will men have to speak with a softer voice to hide the fact that they are men?

The mere suggestion that whether or not a woman covers her head has the power to stop her from doing her job is ludicrous, unless perhaps she’s a hair model. Attempting to stop people from visual representations of their religion can be seen as a violation of their personal freedom and an attack on free speech. The hijab may be a piece of cloth that doesn’t make a sound, but the symbol roars so much so that even in this day and age, when the rate of hate crimes against Muslims in London has doubled over the past two years, women are standing up as icons of strength and allegiance.

My hope for Muslim women everywhere is that one day the Western world will treat them with as much respect of their ideas, ethics, and intelligence as it does with Malala.

Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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