Monday, October 24, 2011

Hijab in the Workplace

The topic of hijab (the cloth which covers the hair of Muslim women) has been garnering attention around the world for many years, affecting law in France, causing conflict in US courts, spurring cries of discrimination at an amusement park in the US, even inciting a woman's murder in a court in Germany, as well as a multitude of various other worldwide incidents linked to wearing hijab.

Are you a woman who has worn hijab in the workplace? Has your experience been positive or negative?

If you didn't wear hijab and then later decided to do so, did you place it on one day and show up to work with it unexpectedly? If so, how did your colleagues react?

Did you tell a superior or other colleagues that you wanted to start wearing hijab first? If so, what were the responses and how did they react once you started wearing it?

What are your thoughts on discussing your plan to begin wearing hijab first verses just showing up one day with hijab on?

Have any of you interviewed for a position without hijab and then later began working with hijab?

Are there certain working environments that seem to be more hijab-friendly than others? What environments have seemed hostile?

If you do not wear hijab but have experienced interaction with a hijabi worker, what was your impression of the encounter?

If you'd like to participate in this discussion focusing on hijab in the workplace, please be sure to indicate in your comments what country your encounters occurred in, since this factor can greatly influence one's experience.

For great tips and demonstrations on wearing hijab, check out HijabTrendz Channel on youtube.


  1. I studied in Brisbane, Australia few years ago and applied for a part-time job at a foodcourt (serving foods). I was told to abandon my hijab if I wanted to work there. I refused, so I didn't get the job.

    I then applied for an IT internship in the same city. I was accepted and the boss was very nice to me. He never made my hijab an issue. He even brought me to meet clients, which sometimes would raise many eyebrows (at least that's what I felt).

    I've traveled to Sydney and I surprisingly saw many hijabi women working in foodcourts (unlike in Brisbane). So I think it depends on the workplace, city, etc. I think Sydney is a more "open-minded" and more multicultural compared to Brisbane.

    I currently live in the Netherlands and I've seen many hijabis working in the restaurants, supermarkets, government offices, etc. The Netherlands is more acceptable to hijabi women compared to Australia (although I have to say, the acceptability is decreasing due to Geert Wilders..., but so far is ok).

    I have a Dutch friend who is a convert and has just decided to wear a hijab. She works at an upscale department store in the Netherlands. She said that in the beginning, people in her workplace was confused why she decided to wear it, but over time.. it didn't become an issue at all.

  2. Born and raised in Belgium, people often talk about France's intolerance towards Islam which is more of a fear of the unknown (weird for a country who colonised islamic countries for more than a century...) Anyway people forget its neighbor: Belgium. In both countries hijab is legally forbidden in Schools for personel and students(elementary, middle and high school) also in any job of administration. Also in some colleges and institutes.
    Although the law offers freedom of faith most bosses refuse any candidates with it and the trick is that once you found a job and you decide to wear hijab no matter how qualified you are you can be legally fired for it, we're talking about real stories on tv and newspapers here not rumors. But you can also find a job WITH hijab too it's not totally closed.
    I personally had remarks from a former boss about henna graphics on my hand he told me "to never come again with (muslim)things that might offense the feelings of clients" unfortunately in France and Belgium people always say that to never "shock" your neighbor you should never expose your faith, any faith that is not of the "natives". And more unfortunate Islam has become here a scapegoat for any things that go wrong in the society... I don't see my future career in my own country...No job or higher education for a piece of fabric...

  3. I'd like to add that people should not only show simple "tolerance" but also understanding towards the others. Tolerating without understanding or even resfusing to discover will let fear of your neighbors install in your minds. And that's what happens here, any "foreign" religion must be hidden...It's only denying a part of your country's population to live their faith and life...And nowadays it only targets Islam...

  4. I am an IT professional in the United States. When I was young I worked in the Law before I wore the hejab. This was 30 years ago. When I decided to wear the hejab I was no longer considered appropriate for work in a law office.

    I worked from home for sometime, and then finally found a job in a mortgage business who agreed that I could work in the basement minding their files (where no one could see me).

    Raising my children alone from the time they were 7 & 3 pushed me into working without a hejab. I am now a senior consultant and advanced in my career. I believe that if I were to begin to wear the hejab my consulting opportunities would be somewhat reduced, but not substantially.

    I wear a hejab when I leave my work, and take it off in the parking garage. It's a poor solution, but in today's economy in the U.S. I hesitate to rock the boat any more than it already is with the ballast of age, religion, sexuality. Frankly, I'm just happy to still be working. What's not said publicly is the anger one develops towards one's employers for creating an environment where one must lead a dual life simply to survive.

  5. I am a nurse in the US. I started wearing a headscarf as I ended my military commitment as a nurse in the Army. So, when I interviewed for my first civilian job, I wore my scarf nervous about what "someone might think". It was never even a question. I was highly qualified with veteran's status. I remember my interviewer asking "are you cold today?" thinking I was bundling up for the fall weather! : ) hahahaha I simply said "No." And he didn't ask any further questions.

    Once my peers were comfortable enough to comment I had a mix of complete acceptance and others who felt it their personal mission to "liberate" me from my oppressive religion : ). I once informed an older woman that her telling me to take my headscarf off would be like me telling her she could could take her pants off. : ) hahaha

    It has been a few years now, and to tell you the truth, I only realize I have it on when I pin it in the morning and un-pin it in the evening. Or when someone asks me about it.

    A day hardly goes by when a patient doesn't ask about it. The questions vary widely. "What is your religion?" "That is a lovely headdress, does it mean something?" "Why do you wear that on your head?" "are you a nun?" "are you Jewish?" I rarely get asked "are you Muslim?" (which of course is the most obvious answer).

    I feel that answering their questions about me, my headscarf, my beliefs, and my time in service help others and myself to better understand who I am and gives a good impression of Islam and tolerance.

    I have found veterans to be the most tolerant of the bunch. I love working with them everyday: old and young. And even when I became Muslim in the military, it was my military community that supported me and my husband more than anyone else.

    Proud Muslim, Proud Nurse and Veteran, Proud Human!

  6. I live in the Netherlands (am not Dutch, though). Lots of women wear hijab and it doesn't seem to be an issue. The director of our son's creche wears one and we never really noticed until he put a piece of fabric on his head and said he was 'just like Noor, a pretty butterfly' ;)

    Another commentator on your blog above in NL mentioned Geert Wilders- he and his followers are definitely becoming a bigger issue. They are set out to basically criminalize Islam.

    I don't care for the word 'tolerate'. It basically means that you will do what is socially acceptable to be 'polite' instead of working towards 'acceptance' that not everyone is the same or how you would like them to be...

  7. I have been wearing my hijab both overseas at my job in Japan and at various jobs in the United States and I have never had any problems or felt that it hindered my involvement in the workplace...currently I work in an office that gets many visitors throughout the US and I feel that they appreciate the diversity that our office brings......I remember at a previous job one customer commented that he appreciated the diversity in our workplace and made a special mention of me and continued his contract with our company.....My hijab has never been an issue with job interviews or anything like that.....I feel that it is second nature that you get the whole package.....yes, many are curious what is "under there", but over-all it's a non if you wanna talk about making wudu in the bathroom then we can talk as there always seems to be an issue with what I am instead of asking me, people run to the HR department and then I have to explain and then its resolved.....

  8. I don't know about other people believe system,but I think , a piece of cloth one put over her face or her head doesn't make her morally cleaner nor dirtier in the eyes of one's self and in the eyes of others.It doe's however obstruct needed air and sun to skin or hair.The thing is who is willing to take your point or argue with you some common sense and set aside traditions or believes for a while.

  9. I always think that clothes who define someone to be different than other people, especially regarding the value of moral, the motives behind it (be it to prevent men to be attracted or distracted by hair, or God's instruction??) is something that has put people into more divisions. I just don't understand what point of view that it holds but to differentiate and make a block? Yes people are born different, culturally and so on, so we should learn to accept differences that comes naturally. But veil has some more doctrinal, segregational issues behind didn't improve the quality of human being, so why???

    1. Its not a division so much as an acknowledgement to my faith and beliefs. Now a days people ask you why you believe in what you believe? Especially when it comes to religion. But lets say you don't have a religion you believe in, then what do you believe? And if there is something you believe isn't that belief still a belief? You see as humans we will always need that, some sort of belief in something. And besides judging someone because they wear a hijab and actively display an aspect of their faith is like judging someone who is holding a bible. Both are holding or wearing something that reveals an aspect of their beliefs but it does not make them any less a human being or a person being able to do their job. Judge by merit and not by looks and what a person is holding or wearing that is the real problem here.

  10. The hijab doesn't appear to be a problem in Canada. They are seen everywhere and in most jobs. It is totally accepted but the niqab is another issue.

  11. When I went in for my interview at a dining hall at a Catholic university here in the U.S., I chose to wear a scarf just covering my hair, and a sheer, see-through shawl wrapped loosely around my neck. I wasn't sure how full hijab would be accepted, so I was trying to play it safe. The two men interviewing me together never mentioned it, so I explained that I usually wear full hijab and asked if it would be okay to wear in the kitchen. They said that the University was "accepting of all people" and that it didn't matter as long as I wore the rest of my uniform [which included a baseball cap, pants, and a t-shirt; I wore a long-sleeved top underneath]. They had other Muslims working in the kitchen already, but [at the time] only one hijabi. She came to work in an al-amira hijab, but would remove the neck cover part and expose her ears before clocking in. The second day after I started working there, I noticed that she wasn't exposing her ears anymore, and was pulling her tube down further over her forehead. A week or two later she asked me about my hijab and if I'd asked management if it was okay. After I told her they were fine with it, she started wearing her neck-covering while working as well. She said that, as an immigrant, she had been scared to ask if it was okay. I was asked frequently by fellow employees why I was wearing something over my hair, and a lot of them asked if I was a nun. Funnily, I was also asked a lot if different colors of hijab meant different things, since the other hijabi wore a white one and I wore black. I started "forgetting" to wear my baseball cap over my hijab -- a few times I was told to put it back on because it was part of my uniform, but eventually they left me alone -- I figured that my hair was covered by my hijab anyway, and that's the only reason to wear the baseball cap, so I didn't see the point in adding another layer on my head in such a hot environment. A while later another hijabi was hired, and from the beginning she didn't wear the cap, so I guess I set a precedent. After a year working in the back kitchen [out of view of students], they moved me to a service position at a counter where I would take orders from the students and cook the food in front of them. I had that position for three years. I had some students who weren't very nice to me, but the majority of them were nice, and I got along with a lot of the regulars. I was told repeatedly by my superiors that I was the best person for the position and that I was great at my job. One day a new security guard decided she didn't want to let me on campus to go to work -- she had a bad attitude as soon as she saw me, so I'm convinced it was my hijab that she had a problem with. We ended up in a heated argument and I was subsequently fired. [It was a complicated no-tolerance with fighting issue, since I was an on-call employee, they had to let me go; the security guard later got into it with someone else, and she was then fired.] I was told that my managers were sorry to see me go, and that after a six-month "timeout" they would be happy to let me back. I've decided not to return, but I'm pleased that if I ever change my mind, I don't have to worry about my hijab again.

  12. I reverted in March 09. I am in Georgia in the USA. I was working at an architecture firm and only wore the hijab on Fridays before going to Jummah. In April 2010, I quit the job for other reasons and soon found I was pregnant. I have been home since then and began wearing the hijab more often because I felt more comfortable since i was not working. Once I had my son in December 2010 I started wearing the hijab everyday to see how I felt. It has been 10 months and now I have been interviewing again for work. I decided after much thought not to wear a hijab to the interviews. Times are incredibly tough and I live in the bible belt or the buckle of the belt as they say LOL. But I am comfortable with my decision. My faith is personal and I don't want my faith to be the topic of discussion until I know someone and have developed a relationship with them. I read every post here and thank you for bringing forward this topic. I really need a job to help the family and I don't think it is selling out but doing what is needed. I always wear the hijab in the car and when I leave but in my corporate environment as a Project Manager I need to develop relationships and I don't want to be seen as oppressed or uncomfortable. Again as a revert I spent 33 years as a non-muslim and career woman. Maybe one day I will begin wearing it all the time but for now I need to get in first.

  13. I live in the USA and reverted to Islam in March 09. I started wearing hijabs on Fridays only. When I left that job in April 2010, I started wearing it more because I was not in a work environment. When I had my son in Dec 2010, I started wearing the hijab everytime I went out. It has been interesting but I had to admit I was not as outgoing. I am now looking for employment and have gone on a few interviews. I have not worn the hijab because these positions are high profile and I want to show I can compete and be successful first. The market is so tough and I can't afford to not get the job. Maybe once I get established, I will wear it at work.

  14. Thank you all so much for sharing your experiences with us. It's really interesting to read about all of your stories. I'm glad there have been a lot of positive experiences amidst the negative ones. Thanks, ladies!

  15. Hi Susie,
    I'm a new revert and am a nurse and work in a small hospital in the East US. I've only once seen a hijabi in this hospital and she was a visiting surgical physician resident.
    As I'm newly professed, I've not considered wearing the hijab yet. It would require significant courage here as our Muslim population is very rarely visible (they are male physicians who wear suits) and a hijabi would stick out like a sore thumb.

  16. salaams all,

    Although deeply into my religion from an early age - i only started wearing the scarf about 6 years ago when i started reading the Quranic translation. deep down inside i knew i should have been wearing it but did not have the courage to. what would people say? it would be too hard...i would get laughed didn't suit me....i'd be too hot. one night i read the verse about covering. i woke the next morning, got ready to see my 'hindu' friend in the city, put on my sparkly black scarf and went off to the city in London on the tube. boy was i mad or what??? my mum was a bit stunned and asked if i was sure i wanted to do it. i said 'yes' it feels right. from that day i haven't looked back Thank God. Although...i have to say that hindu friend eventually stopped speaking to me (i wonder why)
    Wheni got to work, people were obviously looking but no one really said anything and carried on as normal. i was disappointed because i wanted to be able to share my reasoning. Anyhow...i continued working there...and intitially where i wore scarf and short top/trousers...i didn't feel comfortable and started wearing longer tops/dresses with trousers. after Haj i started wearing the abiya and scarf. that took some people at work by surprise but again no one really said anything. the general public however did make comments either behind my back or to my even said..."where is that teacher with the curtain on her head"? my colleague heard and spoke to her about respect and when i asked my colleage what she said she wouldn't tell me as she didn't want me to be hurt. eventually she did and it instead made me feel alot stronger as people are very ignorant! what got me was that she was 'gypsy roma' and we were trying to support her so that she wasn't being discriminated against, yet here she was discriminating me! beyond belief really!
    Anyhow - it was only when i left work, after 10 years that i realised that i was the talk of the town amongst my colleagues....i had been brain washed, become extreme. i think they were happy i left. I realised the true friends and those that were not.

    i've been bought up in East London which has alot of muslim hijab wearing community so i haven't really felt different. however whenever i ventured out to areas, esp for teacher training, where there were 'no' hijab wearing women or even other ethnic groups then i was singled out often, that is until i opened my mouth! upon hearning my cockney accent and the fact that i was NORMAL! we would have a great laugh!
    Although i didn't share my plans with work colleagues i did let muslim relatives know what i was doing and i think i got more grief from them...but thats another story.
    thanks susie for a wonderful blog...really eases my mind. Allah bless and guide you (and us all)
    Umm Abdullah

  17. I'm French and we see things differently. The law forbids girls to wear the hijab at school but they're free to wear it at university. This makes sense: if you wear a hijab at 12 it's because you've been brainwashed by your parents, if you wear it at 18 it's your choice, you're an adult and can take your own decision. The law was passed after girls reported being harassed or even physically threatened by Muslim boys who wanted them to wear the hijab. The idea was that if it's forbidden by law, girls will no longer be pressured into wearing it.

    In France the hijab is seen as a way of setting onself apart and of rejecting integration in French society, where religion is considered a strictly private matter that belongs to your home only. The hijab makes people feel extremely uncomfortable because they feel as if the woman wearing it wants to make it clear she's not really French and does not want to integrate into society. This runs contrary to the values defined during the French Revolution.

    I think part of the problem comes from the fact that some women wear very strict hijabs, which are perceived as provocative. Many French people people would be less offended or disturbed if they saw women wearing the kind of fashionable pink scarfs you see Iranian women wearing in Tehran.

  18. I wanted to share an update. Since I started working I am now wearing the hijab daily. I did not wear it for 3 days but I didn't feel comfortable. I work with a lot of men which is one issue and 2ndly when I wanted to wear hijab, I did not want to come off fickle. It's been tough but I feel good now. As long as I am my confident self, it will be okay. My boss was cool with it, as long as I looked professional and did not "post up religious material or read my kuran in the break room"...

  19. Catherine -- This kind of thinking is exactly what is wrong with the attitude in France right now. Making presumptions about Islam and its adherents without learning anything about it or their beliefs is just absurd.

    That Muslim women/girls are brainwashed and don't want to be a part of French society is simply not true. Most young girls don't wear hijab because they're being forced, it's because they want to wear it as a sign of devotion and modesty. Not only does it have nothing to do with patriotism, or the lack thereof, it has nothing whatsoever to do with anything else, or anyone else -- it's a personal choice to keep your body private.

    One of the bigger issues during the French Revolution was the de-Christianisation of the state, because the majority of citizens were unhappy with being forced to submit to Christian law. So the current mindset that anything pious and/or non-Christian needs to be hidden and outlawed has nothing to do with the Revolution and is actually contrary to the religious tolerance aspect of Enlightenment [which, partly, " its political form adhered to: 'democracy; racial and sexual equality; individual liberty of lifestyle; full freedom of thought, expression, and the press; eradication of religious authority from the legislative process and education; and full separation of church and state'"].

    What are "strict hijabs" and how are they perceived as being "provocative"? I assume you mean "provocative" in the sense of 'deliberately causing anger', and in that case, I can assure you that no Muslim woman in the world is going to put on a hijab with the intent to enrage others. What a bizarre idea.

    I don't see how it is anyone else's business what someone is wearing, as long as it's not offensive. That the French government/public finds hijab offensive is their problem, not the problem of the Muslimah who is choosing to practice her faith. Instead of outlawing hijab, I think their time would be better spent teaching/learning about tolerance and acceptance.

  20. Panya:

    You might see it as a symbol of faith but others see it as a symbol of opression. Clothe soaked in the blood and death of women. A symbol that is flaunted in front of free women who fought for their rights and they see it as a symbol of oppression. They see those who wear it as soldiers for such a cause. They don't see faith only oppression, sexual degradation, inequity and hate. That is what it represents to them. Just saying this might be your faith and how you see it. However others see it differently and it represent death and hate to them. There are still others that see it as a uniform of fundalmentalism as well. A uniform that has the same symbolism as the KKK or nazi patch. Of course it is fine that you can wear it and it might have to be tolerated by some. However no one has to respect it or provide any understanding to it. They may only provide tolerance. Nothing more.

    You fail to see the offense of what it represents to others.

    However, I am against outlawing this dress wear or any other. I am all for having people put in jail for forcing someone to wear it or create an oppressive community within a free country that tries to force it on others. If that means imprisioning a small self-made community for violating freedom then so be it.

    Apparently though you have you answer from the French government that it is their business as they see it as offensive. You just do not like their answer.

  21. Susie:

    Keep safe. I hope it gets better for your sake in Saudi. Hoping, I am wrong but I have a feeling this has put some strain on your marriage.

    Best wishes,


  22. bigstick -- Wow. I was going to respond with a drawn-out post, but your post and website are the same hateful, uneducated, partisan, dogmatic drivel I avoid like the plague. I really have nothing to say to you, because I'm not going to waste my time trying to explain things you don't wish to learn.

  23. Panya:

    Hey, you are more than welcomed to come over. My bark can be far worse than my bite. Besides, we might both learn something. However, if you went to my blog you know my position on religion. Not just Islam all of them. I don't discriminatate on my dislike for all of them. I can at times be a reasonable sort though.

  24. @Tiffany Green may Allah reward your efforts. I am also a convert (3yrs) living in Georgia. Im in Savannah and the muslim population is very small, and hijabi's are almost non-existent here. Ive worn hijab everyday since converting, however, I also havent been in the workplace since converting. Due to recent financial hardships I am seeking employment. I wrestle with whether or not to wear hijab on interviews. Ithink many women, especially here in the U.S, have the challenge of being "breadwinner" in the home or at least having to work to supplement our spouses income. In my case my husband was injured on his job and we have been living on workers comp pay. The necessity to work can cause women to feel they must set aside the hijab, even if only part time or temporarily. We, as muslim women, need to seek to be more tolerant wirhin our own community. It's equally intolerant for those who wear hijab to judge harshly those who dont, as it is for non-muslims to judge those who do. May Allah swt guide us all.

  25. I started wearing hijab at work and no one seemed to have a problem except for my boss. As a civil engineer, I work in the construction industry in the Chicago area and interact with a variety of clients. My boss is an Iraqi Christian and believes that my wearing the hijab will negatively affect our business or result in misconceptions about his view of women.

    If my opinion, the hijab is much more professional than wearing a short skirt or a low-cut top, especially in a male-dominated industry.

  26. I have been thinking of wearing hijab since I converted in June 2012. I believe in what the Qur'an tells us about covering our heads and necks. I often wear the hijab infront of the mirror and think it looks beautiful. I also wear hijab to the mosque on Fridays. There have been a few times I wore it out for dinner or to do simply errins.

    I would love to wear hijab all the time but my job is what is holding me back. I am a waitress at a popular restaurant in Canada and we serve alcohol. Serving alcohol makes me uncomfortable and I want to find a new job where it is acceptable and alcohol is not served. I am afraid I wont make as much money (there are some days I make $30/hour in tips). I am looking for advice on this topic and have been reaching out to other muslim women in my situation.

    If anyone has any advice to offer me I extend my email:

    I have been looking to make muslim women friends and would love a chance to discuss.

    Assalum alaykum sisters and brothers.

  27. I am happy to read all these comments and see how every one relates to the topic . Personally I have been living in Dubai for almost all my life. In the recent years I have noticed a trend towards hiring ladies who are NOT wearing hijab. When I call for any interview or anything related to getting a job they ask if I am willing to take off my hijab, or simply ask if I am wearing one (on a telephone interview)?,,, I got rejected in several interviews even though the interview went great and my profile matches job profile!,,
    I am so frustrated of the job market here at the moment. I would like to advance in my career and I know I have the skill and knowledge but it seems that my hijab is somehow preventing that from happening and at the same time I don't want to take it off because I believe its correct. I don't know what to do any more.

  28. I think hijab is a life style... where ever in the world you live just take it as the part of your life. Hijab is good for cold countries as it can help to protect the head from cold season.

  29. I have recently decided to wear the hijab, I think its has been about 4 months now. My problem is not jet with finding a job but being accepted to university. As you may know, many universities ask for pictures when you are applying. This worries me because I dont want to be rejected just because I am wearing a hijab. I like wearing the hijab it gives me confidence so I would not be happy with taking it off but university is very important for me in order to be able to accomplish my dreams. Im in such a dilemma and don't know what to do.