Supreme Court shows sympathy to woman denied job due to hijab

25th Mar 2015
Supreme Court shows sympathy to woman denied job due to hijab

Support: Elauf is pictured with her mother Majda Elauf, left, and P. David Lopez, General Counsel of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as they leave the Supreme Court in Washington

Elham Asaad Buaras

A majority of US Supreme Court justices have shown sympathy for a Muslim woman who was denied a job at Abercrombie & Fitch because she wore a head scarf.

On February 24, the nine justices heard an appeal brought by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Samantha Elauf.

Elauf, who was denied a job at an Abercrombie Kids store in Oklahoma in 2008 when she was 17, attended the Supreme Court in Washington for the hearing with her mother.

It appeared the court’s four liberal justices were likely to vote in Elauf’s favor, while at least one of the court’s conservatives, Justice Samuel Alito, seems set to follow suit.

The legal issue is whether Elauf was required to ask the company to accommodate her religious practice.

Abercrombie & Fitch said she did not ask them to change their policy and so they cannot be sued under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The company said it has previously granted religious accommodations when they have requested.

Elauf was wearing a hijab, at her job interview but did not specifically say that, as a Muslim, she wanted the company to give her a religious accommodation.

But her interviewer assumed she was wearing it for religious reasons. She was impressed by Elauf but when she consulted a manager, they did not give her the job.

The company denied Elauf the job on the grounds that wearing the scarf violated its image for staff.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the civil rights law requires certain people to be treated differently to other applicants if they have a religious requirement.

“They don’t have to accommodate a baseball cap. They do have to accommodate a yarmulke,” Ginsburg said, in a reference to the cap worn by some Jewish men.

Justice Samuel Alito said employers like Abercrombie could easily find out if prospective employees need a religious accommodation by simply asking if they are able to abide by work rules.

He noted that Abercrombie had assumed Elauf would wear the head scarf every day simply because she wore it at the interview. “Maybe she just had a bad hair day,” Alito said.

Other conservative justices were more skeptical about the Government’s arguments.

Chief Justice John Roberts speculated that putting the burden on the employee to assess whether a religious accommodation is needed “may promote stereotypes to a far greater degree” by requiring interviewers to inquire about applicants’ religious beliefs.

A ruling is due by the end of June.

One Response to “Supreme Court shows sympathy to woman denied job due to hijab”

Iftikhar AhmadMarch 30, 2015

Living in the west, the hijab has become a potent indicator of identity with many non-Muslims viewing it as a political statement. However, it is pertinent to note that the hijab is, first and foremost, an act of worship that women engage in, and an act undertaken to seek the pleasure of one’s Lord.

The definition of a hijab is fiercely contested by many Muslims, and unfortunately most of those who engage in the topic are unaware that it is very much defined by Islamic law, the Sharia, and not cultural habits or one’s idea of what modesty is, or should be.

In discussing the hijab, Islamic jurists have stipulated a number of conditions for it to be a hijab in the Islamic sense. In brief, these conditions are that one’s clothing must cover the entire body in a way that the shape of the body is not apparent and the material must not be so thin that one can see through it. Clothing should not resemble that which is specific to men nor the disbelievers. It should not be attractive to men, nor should women be perfumed in public. The main aim of hijab is to stop fitnah; females who are attractive by nature attract the gaze of males which then leads to other greater sins such as fornication and adultery. Allah commanded women neither to display their adornment nor to display any form of behaviour that might attract the attention of men.

In fact, scholars from various schools of thought prohibit women from raising their voices in public, even if it be the utterance of the talbiyah during hajj or the adhan (call to prayer) between females. The Sharia also prohibits men to visit lonely women and to stay alone with them. It also prohibited men to look at women. One of the main problems is limiting the hijab as being a manifestation of female Muslim identity. When France banned the hijab they looked at it as a religious symbol unable to understand the meaning of ibaadah (worship). However, it is unfortunate to see many Muslims treating it as merely a form of identity, and once the symbolic representation has been accomplished the necessity to perform it in a way that meets its conditions laid down by Allah is overlooked. This is one of subtly reprehensible values that many western Muslims have unknowingly adopted. We have to understand that Islamic practices including observing the hijab are actions of ibaadah. They are meant to please Allah, avoid being disobedient, and earn hasanaat in order to attain a high rank in paradise.

This is a major mistake that many Muslims fall into when undertaking many Islamic practices. Having the correct aim in wearing the hijab is the first and main step towards a solution for this problem. It should be noted that projecting concerns about this non-shar’ii form of hijab does not imply discouraging Muslim women from observing a limited form of hijab which they have chosen, but instead it serves to encourage Muslim women to progress to observe the correct method of hijab. The intention of this article is driven by the desire for improvement and progress and not to incite women to withdraw from the hijab completely.

Some Muslims posit that we should not be strict in calling for the proper observance of many Islamic practices in the west, and as such, we should encourage Muslim women to do as much as they are, without criticism, even if some do not complete such observance. Undoubtedly we agree to encouraging Muslim women to do as much as they can, but correcting wrong or incomplete Islamic practices is an obligation upon those who know.

It is indeed the case that many sisters are completely ignorant about the conditions of the legally valid hijab, and hence it is incumbent upon us to raise awareness of the legal conditions and features of a correct hijab. Knowledge is the cure for many of our mistakes. Advising sisters who undoubtedly wear the hijab out of good intentions as well as educating their parents is another way towards solving this issue. It might be a good idea to print and distribute some leaflets that describe the authentic hijab in a way that goes beyond merely a head covering.
IA
http://www.londonschoolofislamics.org.uk

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