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European Court Rules Workplace Hijab Ban Illegal

The European Court of Justice has made a ruling declaring it illegal for a business to fire a woman because she wore a hijab to work, saying customers and employers should get used to it.

The case was brought to the court by Asma Bougnaoui who was hired by French IT consulting firm Micopole SA as a project engineer in 2009. Ms. Bougnaoui’s role was to go out and interact and advise clients. When clients of the company refused to work with her because of her Islamic headscarf, or hijab, the company felt they had no choice but to terminate her employment.

The court has ruled that the decision to release Ms. Bougnaoui from her contract was discrimination based on religion and therefore illegal, Zeit reports.

The ruling of Eleanor Sharpston, the Advocate General of the European Court, could affect future claims of discrimination by Muslim women and encourage more women to appeal headscarf bans.

According to the court the headscarf did not directly interfere with the ability of Ms. Bougnaoui to carry out her assigned duties. Ms. Sharpston commented that the European Union (EU) rules allow companies to request specific clothing only if there is a “genuine and determining occupational requirement”.

According to Ms. Sharpston only if Ms. Bougnaoui had been wearing the full face veil, which can cover everything but a woman’s eyes, would the case have come back with a different verdict. “Western society regards visual or eye contact as being of fundamental importance in any relationship involving face-to-face communication,” she said.

The Advocate General ended the judgement saying that businesses should be looking out for their employees more than looking out for their bottom line saying: “It is not about losing one’s job in order to help the employer’s profit line.”

The judgement is currently not binding and a further and final judgement on the case will not be issued until later in the year. If the ruling is upheld all member states in the EU will be bound to follow which could cause tensions with countries like France who have long maintained the rule of secularism in society and have had a ban on the full face veil since 2010.

Another case related to Islamic wear recently came to light in Austria where a small town banned the sharia approved Islamic swimwear known as the burkini. While the judgement in the case of Ms. Bougnaoui related to employers, it could inspire others to push for the approval to wear Islamic garments in other areas of public life.

The ruling of the court is also in direct opposition to more and more Europeans in Germany, France and elsewhere who wish to see less of Islam in public life – which includes not only veils and headscarves but minarets and calls to prayer. The German anti-mass migration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and others across Europe have vowed to limit what they see as the Islamisation of public life in their countries.

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