Quick post on hijabs

I read today that legislation banning teachers from wearing a hijab in class passed by the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia has been upheld as legal. Obviously I can’t comment on the nature of the decision (I don’t know much about German law). But I do think that it represents a disturbing trend of intolerance.

What of Catholic or Anglican nuns, who may wear a wimple? Would they also be banned from teaching classes? I should hope so, for reasons of moral consistency. You can’t have one rule for one religion and another rule for another. What about a Jewish teacher who wore a yarmulke (Jewish skull cap)? What about a Sikh teacher with a turban? Where do you draw the line?

My suggestion is that the line needs to be drawn only where religious dress prevents a teacher from communicating effectively with students. As long as a teacher’s face is fully visible and she can do all the practical demonstrations which she needs to do, there should be no reason for her to be banned from teaching. As I have written previously in this blog, I do not think that niqabs (covering leaving only the eyes showing) or burqas (covering with gauze over the eyes) are appropriate wear for teachers, because it inhibits face to face communication and inhibits physical movement. And communication is an essential part of teaching. But as long as the face is visible, what’s the problem?

Have a look at RG’s post about recent allegations of school photos being doctored to remove evidence of a hijab from a student’s head (did they have to imagine what her hair looked like?…the mind boggles). Thoroughly recommended.

(Via Jurist)



Filed under education, islam, jobs, law, religion, society, tolerance

21 responses to “Quick post on hijabs

  1. Pingback: Same story, different cast. « Through a Muslimah’s Veil

  2. I’m intrigued by the statement in the article you refer to that: reginonal laws do not “allow for religious statements that might infringe on the state’s neutrality toward students and parents”, and that the headscarf is an expression of religious conviction. The latter may be true (though it may also be a statement of a cultural conviction), but I fail to comprehend how an individual’s dress infringes on the state’s neutrality. Maybe I’m being particuarly thick on this issue.

  3. Oanh, I’m not sure what that means either. That is why I said “Obviously I can’t comment on the nature of the decision (I don’t know much about German law).”

    My guess is: the teacher is hired by the state. If the teacher wears the garb of a particular religion, it suggests that she is making a religious statement which might be sanctioned by the state. Seems pretty stupid to me. If I have a tattoo, and it is visible to students, is the inference to be drawn that the state supports tattoos?

  4. LDU

    This is slightly related, and its personal experience…

    Few years ago, i used to work at this place and a couple of my prayer sessions used to come within the fold of my working hours. So, I used to take two 3 minute sessions off work to go pray. One of these sessions was during my breaks.

    The manager and my co-workers used to see me pray. My prayers used to incense the manager (although he’d never speak it out directly, his face used to go purple and he used to talk to me in a harsh tone) and my co-workers (bar two) also started talking to me differently once they all became aware of my prayers and strange movements.

    During the four weeks i worked there things felt really sloppy. After praying at work i started feeling like an outcast and as an unwanted employee even though I was doing a great job. Fellow workers were reluctant to deal with me on simple matters such as passing me a invoice that just came through the fax.

    Praying on time is crucial for a practising Muslim. I have mates who dont pray on time at work and do them all at once when they get home in fear of being treated/spoken to differently.

    My work environment became really sour, and I couldnt resist asking the manager whether my prayers were harming him in anyway. He said that it was really inappropriate to pray in a workplace as none of the Christians in the room did. I asked him whether he felt the same way about smokos, and he said smoking is near natural.

    At the end I left the workplace, and when i handed in my resignation envelope there was a huge smile across the managers face.

    I don’t think his smile would have lasted so long after reading my letter:

    “This workplace had great potential for being an enjoyable experience. Despite my above average performance i was treated like trash for spending a mere 6 minutes praying per day of which 3 minuted fell during my lunch break.

    I will feel immature writing this: i found you to be of very shallow character, and it was very unprofessional of you to treat a worker so harshly because of a slight difference. Perhaps that is why you have a wife that has the guts to flirt with your employees in your very workplace. I always found it amusing when she flirted with other workers. I also found it interesting when she used to roll up her skirt to bare more thigh flesh for workers to enjoy in the staff room and re-adjust it when leaving the staff room.

    I hope me making you aware of your wife’s behaviour does lead to a divorce.

    Fuck yourself dick face,

    XX YY.

    PS – Stay near your phone, you will be getting a call from the Equal Opportunity Commission soon. And, please pluck your monobrow.”

    I didn’t take the matter to the EOC, but rambling on that letter knowing that he’d be reading it right after i left and knowing that he’d be having an argument with his wife while driving home did calm me down. And having the thought of him being violent to his wife, and she bailing on him did make me smile.

    Sick, i know.

  5. pete m

    ldu – thanks for my morning chuckle!

  6. -k.

    LE, this is an interesting issue.

    I remember this first raising its head in 2000 when I was a high-school exchange student in Germany. An Islamic teacher in another city was banned from wearing the hijab in the classroom which made headlines all over the country. From what I recall, it was widely supported as a division of church and state. Yet curiously, there were crucifixes on the wall of every classroom in my Bavarian school.

    Furthermore, in Bavaria it was (and still is) compulsory to study some form of religion – but you could only choose from a catholic, evangelical or ‘ethical’ (christian ethics) stream. If you were Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, then tough. It was christian ethics or the door.

    I’ve been back to my old school twice. The crucifixes are now only in rooms where religion is taught, but that appears to be the only change. It’s certainly interesting.

  7. A friend of mine was discriminated against in her workplace for praying during work hours, not drinking alcohol and fasting for Ramadan. Fortunately, she moved jobs, and she’s never had a problem in any subsequent job. I wanted to sue that workplace, but she wouldn’t hear of it at the time. Now she wishes she had!

    I suppose there will always be idiots who are intolerant of customs they don’t understand.

  8. -k, that’s very interesting. It suggests that perhaps nuns would not be subject to the same sanctions?

    I’ll have to keep an eye out for more news on the topic.

  9. -k.

    It does. As far as I know, nuns don’t teach in public schools in Germany, but I found it interesting that everyday Germans deemed Christianity and the state to go hand in hand. It was only taboo if you were of one of those ‘strange’ religions.

    I daresay a lot of it stems from the reaction to the large Turkish population in Germany. Many German Turks came to Germany as gastarbeiter (‘guest workers’) in the 60s and settled permanently. Whilst overall there’s a great amount of acceptance, there’s still a pocket of the German people that consider the Muslim Turkish population ‘foreigners’.

  10. Louise


    Re: ‘And having the thought of him being violent to his wife, and she bailing on him did make me smile.’

    Regardless of how high your old boss’ wife pitched her skirt, attaining smug satisfaction from the thought of violence being used against a woman, or any women, because they transgressed your dubious moral standards ultimately makes you the asshole.

    You were treated terribly at your workplace, but you might like to pray that you also develop some compassion.

  11. LDU

    Louise, i realise i could have put that in better words. The latter part is where all the meaning is meant to lie.

    I’m not in support of violence of any sort against woment.

  12. fairlane

    Of all places for this to happen it has to be Germany. I read about a year ago there’s a growing “neo-Nazi” movement in Germany, and they in particular hate foreigners.

  13. LDU,

    I read your comment as wishing bad luck on the guy himself, rather than wishing for his wife to be harmed. The fact that you could envisage him harming his wife tends to suggest he wasn’t a nice person.

    That’s the hard thing with blogging and e-mail – there’s no tone, but we write quickly as if we were speaking – sometimes the message come across differently to what we intend (it has happened to me before a couple of times).


  14. -k.

    Fairlane, whilst it’s fair to say that neo-Nazis hate foreigners, I don’t believe it fair to be restricting the problem to Germany. The vast majority of Germans are appalled at the actions of neo-Nazis and go out of their way to demonstrate this.

    Racial discrimination exists everywhere. Didn’t France ban students from wearing hijabs not that long ago? Hasn’t an Australian school just doctored a hijab out of a school photo?

  15. fairlane

    The point is, Germany doesn’t exactly have a stellar history when it comes to xenophobia, race relations, etc. It’s not like the Holocaust was 500 years ago.

  16. Europe doesn’t have a stellar record generally with regard to its treatment of Jews. There were plenty of collaborators with the Nazis throughout Europe. And it’s not so long ago that the big menace to Europe was the Ottoman empire – there’s historical precedent for Europeans looking on Turks darkly.

    But then, I can’t think of any country which does have a great historical reputation. Perhaps, unfortunately, nowhere is free of xenophobia.

    I remember when I was in Japan, I heard some right-wing goon come past on a truck shouting slogans like “Resist Western decadence! Foreigners out of Japan!” Some poor guy on the street realised from my expression that I understood what the goon was saying, and came to apologise profusely. I said I wasn’t offended: there’s rednecks and racists in every country – but it’s people like him who make it better. We all just have to resist, wherever we live.

  17. LDU

    Eagle, you speak Japanese?

  18. I do. Sukoshi dake (a little only) these days. It’s a long time since I studied it at uni. My knowledge of Chinese characters has gone down drastically.

    I went to my favourite sushi shop yesterday, and couldn’t remember the word for “arm” when in conversation with the proprietors. I could remember everything else (leg, nose, eyes, hair, hand) but not arm. Don’t ask me why! The brain is a mysterious thing.

    I’m sure that if I visited again, it would all come back. Maybe it would even be better for having percolated in my brain for 10 years? Then again, maybe not. 😉

  19. fairlane

    Your point is well taken LE. I agree most countries have less than stellar histories. My ex-girlfriend was American Indian, a Miwok. I told her, and I mentioned this in a post, I’d never heard of Miwoks before. She said in a matter of fact way, “No one really has. Almost all of us our dead.” European settlers exterminated them.

    My point with Germany is the hackles on my neck raise when I hear about this stuff in relation to them. We have family that was forced to flee Germany in the 40’s. Not because they were Jewish, they were pure German, Mauser, (the gun manufacturer) they opposed Hitler and had their lives threatened.

  20. Family history can have an impact on how you react to a particular place. The family of a friend of mine is Russian Jewish. Her hackles rise when she hears of anti-Semitic groups in Russia because of their family history. They suffered at the hands of both the Left and the Right. She would probably argue that Russia is as bad as Germany.

    A long time ago, I was saying to a friend from Mainland China that there’s so much hatred in Europe. She laughed bitterly. “Wait till they’ve been brewing that hatred and feeling of superiority for 5,000 years!” she said. I hadn’t thought about it before, but of course Asia was divided in the same way as Europe, just for much longer.

    On the topic of your ex-girlfriend, it’s awful when you hear of a whole group of people being almost wiped out. I read a very sad article a few years back about all these Australian indigenous languages which are dying out because there’s only one or two speakers left, and sometimes only one or two people left in a tribe.

    I guess that’s always happened through history. I was watching a documentary about the Carthaginians, the Mediterranean power before the Romans came along, but the Romans wiped them and their culture out, so now no one knows what the Punic language was or what their traditions were. All we have left is Roman propaganda, which says they burned their children as offerings, and they worshipped a cruel horned god…

    When I studied early Celtic history at university, we did an interesting exercise where one of the students had set out a whole bunch of quotes and we had to guess who had written them. The quotes all shared a theme. More “civilised” people were commenting on the barbarity and unpleasantness of an indigenous group. As it turned out, one was a Roman commenting on Celts, some were relatively modern day English commenting on the Irish, some were Australian settlers commenting on Aborigines, one was an American settler commenting on Native American people, one was a Roman commenting on Germanic tribes…the same Germanic tribes who would later think they were superior to anyone else! A group of “barbarians” can become the “civilised” people of a later age, looking down on others.

  21. Pingback: The subtle knife « The Legal Soapbox

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