Thursday, March 4, 2010

Muslim Woman fired for Wearing Hijab

Abercrombie and Fitch proudly cites its commitment to diversity in the workforce. Hani Khan, a Muslim sales clerk found out that this commitment has its limits. The Contra costa Times reports as follows on the firing of the Muslim sales clerk from hollister's, a subsidiary of Abercrombie and Fitch.

"Except, last month, at Hollister, the spinoff of Ohio-based Abercrombie & Fitch that she says fired her for wearing the hijab at work almost five months after she started there. A week before her termination, during a meeting with a district manager, was the first time in her life someone had confronted her -- not just out of curiosity -- about her Islamic garb.

"She called us from there and said, 'Come and pick me up,' " said Khan's father, who asked that his full name not be used in concern for his family's safety. "She was really upset."

Ms. Khan had been hired despite an elaborate dress policy that covers everything from hairstyle (no cornrows) to footwear. (sneakers and sandals required) The company promotes a young, hip image. Ms. Khan lasted for five months. Her conflict was not at a local level but with corporate headquarters. It should be noted that she was not covering her face, but only her hair.

Companies like Abercrombie and Fitch have a strong influence upon the development of fashion in America and in the world. Although the reaction may be delayed and modified, even communities that are out of the mainstream such as Muslims, Chassidic Jews and Pentecostals absorb modified versions of mainstream fashions. Those whose business it is to set fashion trends are not working with a blank slate. Ms. Khan is a living reminder of this. The very fact that she felt comfortable applying for a job at Hollister's shows that her personal interpretation of Islamic law and culture had shifted to an acceptance of American style to some extent. While Europe has polarised over the integration of Muslims into European society, America has experienced a far less traumatic process of integration.

Ms. Khan accepted enough of the Abercrombie and Fitch wardrobe to be able to commit herself to promoting their merchandise. If she were to cover her face and wear a shapeless robe, one could make the case that she is not an appropriate model of the Abercrombie and Fitch image. This was clearly not the case. One can see many Muslim women in New York, San Francisco and elsewhere who blend modern fashion with the strictures of Islamic modesty.

The precedent that is set by firing Ms. Khan is a bad one. America has evolved into a haven of tolerance for different religious groups. The danger that is posed by her termination from Hollister's could spread beyond the Muslim community and effect others. That is how legal precedent works.

The Contra Costa Times quotes a young Muslim woman as follows concerning Islamic dress codes.

"As Muslims, we believe it's God's order to cover ourself and dress in a certain way," said Alaa Suliman, a 27-year-old engineer who has always worn a hijab, without incident, at her Silicon Valley jobs. "It also means you're not looked at as a sex object. It's not about your physical attraction."

I have heard Orthodox Jewish women and devout Christians voice almost identical sentiments with support from their respective scriptures. Modesty is not a Muslim monopoly. The need for it and the desire for the protection and ennoblement it affords society transcends religious boundaries.

Hani Khan should not have been fired. She should be given her job back. And American courts should protect her rights. Because they are ours as well.

No comments: