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Head covering and
the freedom of religion

HIJAB IN THE WORKPLACE

Q&A

Q. What are the requirements for Muslim women's dress?


         A: Rules regarding Muslim women's (and men's) attire are derived from
              the Quran, Islam's revealed text, and the traditions (hadith) of the
              Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In the Quran, God states: "Say to
              the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their
              modesty...And say to the believing women that they should lower their
              gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty
              and adornments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they
              should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty
              except to their husbands, their fathers...(a list of exceptions)"
              [Chapter 24, verses 30-31] Also, "O Prophet! Tell thy wives and
              daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer
              garments over their persons...that they should be known and not
              molested." [Chapter 33, verse 59]

              In one tradition, the Prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying: "...If the
              woman reaches the age of puberty, no part of her body should be seen but
              this --- and he pointed to his face and hands."

              From these and other references, the vast majority of Muslim scholars
              and jurists, past and present, have determined the minimum requirements
              for Muslim women's dress: 1) Clothing must cover the entire body, with
              the exception of the face and the hands. 2) The attire should not be
              form fitting, sheer or so eye-catching as to attract undue attention or
              reveal the shape of the body.

              There are similar, yet less obvious requirements for a Muslim male's
              attire. 1) A Muslim man must always be covered from the navel to the
              knees. 2) A Muslim man should similarly not wear tight, sheer,
              revealing, or eye-catching clothing. In addition, a Muslim man is
              prohibited from wearing silk clothing (except for medical reasons) or
              gold jewelry. A Muslim woman may wear silk or gold.

              (References: "The Muslim Woman's Dress," Dr. Jamal Badawi, Ta-Ha
              Publishers; "Hijab in Islam," Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, Al-Risala Books;
              "The Islamic Ruling Regarding Women's Dress," Abu Bilal Mustafa
              Al-Kanadi, Abul-Qasim Publishing; "Islamic Dress," Muslim Women of
              Minnesota; "Your Hijab and U.S. Law," North American Council for Muslim
              Women)

         Q. Is Islamic dress appropriate for modern times?

              A: Islamic dress is modern and practical. Muslim women wearing Islamic
              dress work and study without any problems or constraints.
 
 

         Q. Does Islamic dress imply that women are submissive or inferior to men?

              A: Islamic dress is one of many rights granted to Islamic women. Modest
              clothing is worn in obedience to God and has nothing to do with
              submissiveness to men. Muslim men and women have similar rights and
              obligations and both submit to God.
 

         Q. But aren't there Muslim women who do not wear Islamic Dress, or hijab?

              A: Some Muslim women choose not to wear hijab. Some may want to wear it
              but believe they cannot get a job wearing a head scarf. Others may not
              be aware of the requirement or are under the mistaken impression that
              wearing hijab is an indication of inferior status.
 

         Q. Why is Islamic dress becoming an issue for personnel managers and
         supervisors?

              A: The Muslim community in American is growing rapidly. Growth factors
              include conversions to Islam, immigration from Muslim countries and high
              birth rates for Muslim families. As the community grows, more Muslim
              women will enter the work force. In many cases, these women wish both to
              work and to maintain their religious convictions. It should be possible
              to fulfill both goals.
 

         Q. What issues do Muslim women face in the workplace?

              A: Muslim women report that the issue of attire comes up most often in
              the initial interview for a job. Some interviewers will ask if the
              prospective employee plans to wear the scarf to work. Others may
              inappropriately inquire about religious practices or beliefs. Sometimes
              the prospective employee, feeling pressure to earn a living, will take
              off the scarf for the interview and then put it on when hired for the
              job. Modest dress should not be equated with incompetence.

              Other issues include unwanted touching or pulling on scarves by other
              employees, verbal harassment or subtle ostracism and denial of
              promotion. Many Muslims also object to being pressured to attend
              celebrations of other religious traditions or to attend
              employer-sponsored celebrations at which alcohol is served.
 

         Q. What can an employer reasonably require of a woman wearing hijab?

              A: An employer can ask that an employee's attire not pose a danger to
              that employee or to others. For example, a Muslim woman who wears her
              head scarf so that loose ends are exposed should not be operating a
              drill press or similar machinery. That employee could be asked to
              arrange her hijab so that the loose ends are tucked in. An employer can
              ask that the hijab be neat and clean and in a color that does not clash
              with a company uniform.
 
 

         Q. What are the legal precedents on this issue?

              A: Many cases have demonstrated an employee's legal right to reasonable
              accommodation in matters of faith. Examples: 1) The failure of other
              Muslim employees to wear headscarves is legally irrelevant. The employee
              need only show sincerely-held religious beliefs. (E.E.O.C. v. Reads,
              Inc., 1991) 2) There are no health or safety concerns at issue. (Cf.
              E.E.O.C. Dec. No. 82-1, 1982, also E.E.O.C. Dec. No. 81-20, 1981) 3)
              Companies cannot give effect to private biases. In other words, just
              because an employer believes customers will be prejudiced against a
              woman in a scarf, that does not mean the employee can be fired. (Palmer
              v. Sidoti, 1984, also Cf. Sprogis v. United Air Lines, Inc., 1971) 4) An
              employer must demonstrate "undue hardship" caused by the wearing of
              religious attire. (TWA v. Hardison, 1977) Hardships recognized by the
              courts include cost to the employer or effect on co-workers. 5) Dress
              codes can have disproportionate impact on certain faiths. (E.E.O.C. Dec.
              No. 71-2620, 1971, also E.E.O.C. Dec. No. 71-779, 1970)

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