Cases of Hijab discrimination against
Muslim girls and women in Canada and the United States are not uncommon.
However, there are measures sisters can take in both countries to fight
against such intolerance.
Below are some suggestions based
on interviews with a member of the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic
Relations (CAIR) and the Toronto, Canada-based Canadian Muslim Civil Liberties
DISCRIMINATION IN THE UNITED STATES
There are three main areas where
discrimination tends to take place against sisters who wear Hijab: in employment,
public facilities and education. Br. Salahudin Shakir is CAIR’s Civil Rights
Coordinator. He has offered the following advice about dealing with Hijab
discrimination in these three areas:
Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights
Act guarantees the right of employees to wear Hijab in the workplace.
Br. Salahudin pointed out that it
is very important for sisters to remember that the employee has to inform
the employer either at the beginning of the job, during the job interview
or once they've been questioned about the Hijab that they wear the Hijab
for religious reasons.
It is preferable that this be done
employer is not allowing you to wear Hijab:
Inform your employer in writing that
you wear Hijab for religious reasons.
If s/he still denies you the right to
wear your Hijab, write a letter to him/her explaining that this is a violation
of your civil rights.
If this has no affect on the employer,
see if there is a body within the company that can handle this complaint.
Most larger companies have an Employment Opportunities Office (EEO) or
a Human Resources department where a complaint can be filed.
If nothing happens in this regard, file
a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in
writing. They will conduct an interview with you about your complaint.
NOTE: in most cases you have
the legal right to wear Hijab on the job. The only exception would be if
the Hijab becomes a health or safety issue.
If you are called names by strangers
at a public facility like in the mall or on the street, there is not very
much you can do.
If you go to a restaurant and you
are treated differently by an employee, or you are thrown out of a store
because of your Hijab, this is religious discrimination.
If you are kicked out of a store, verbally
approach the manager of the store.
If this does not resolve the issue,
write a letter to the store's corporate or legal office. You can complain
and ask for an apology.
This can even reach the level of a lawsuit
if you suffered injury. This is covered under Title II of the Civil Rights
Act which covers discrimination in public places.
If someone pulls off your Hijab or
threatens to physically harm you because of your Hijab anywhere, you can
file a criminal assault charge with local police. However, you would have
to be able to identify, by appearance, the perpetrator. In many states,
you can go into small claims court by filing a civil assault charge if
this happens. In some states, this would be considered a hate crime, for
which there are more severe punishments.
If a professor makes offensive or
derogatory statements about your Hijab, you can:
File a complaint with the principal.
If that doesn't work, file a complaint
with the local school board.
You can file a lawsuit.
DISCRIMINATION IN CANADA
Br. Faisal Kutty, a Muslim lawyer
based in Toronto, Ontario is general counsel of the CMCLA. He has given
the following advice about Hijab discrimination in Canada.
In general, under the Canadian Charter
of Rights and Freedoms, as well as under various human rights protections
at provincial levels, Muslim women and men have been guaranteed full religious
If you have been discriminated against,
the first step is to deal with the perpetrator directly, whether this person
is an employer, store employee, etc. However, this is not necessary if
you feel that the perpetrator is a danger to your safety.
If the discrimination has been at the
hands of an employer, most workplaces have an internal body dealing with
complaints of discrimination. You should approach this body.
As well, at this stage, you can approach
a Muslim organization like the CMCLA to help you deal with this incident
“I would say the vast majority
of cases can be resolved by approaching either the perpetrator or someone
who’s their senior and involving some Muslim organization,” Br.. Faisal
However, if this is not the case, then
the case can be taken to the human rights commission at the provincial
or federal level.
To determine which level you must go
to, you have to first find out under which jurisdiction the area you are
dealing with falls under. For example, in Canada, education is under provincial
jurisdiction, therefore, you would have to approach your province’s human
rights commission, not its federal equivalent. However, if you had a complaint
about something regarding the Canadian military, this falls under federal
jurisdiction, therefore, you would have to approach the federal human rights
Br.. Faisal did warn, however, that
going forward with a complaint with the commissions is a “long, protracted
process” with minimal compensation. The purpose really is to receive punitive
damages. As well, if the discrimination has been at the hands of an employer
who fired you because of your Hijab, the commission will not generally
force the employer to allow you back into that job.
6. If you are not satisfied with the
commission’s ruling, you can appeal to a provincial level court.
For further information, CAIR can be
reached at (202) 659-2254. Those interested in contacting the CMCLA should
call Br. Anwar Syed at (416) 289-9666.