Sunday, October 15, 2006

Religious symbols

Discussions about the hijab and niqaab rumble on.

For my part, I think that muslim women should be at liberty to wear whatever they like, but where it interferes with their duties at work, there should be compromise.

Obviously I'm talking about the teaching assistant who has been suspended, after apparently refusing to remove her niqaab when teaching English language to children for whom it is not their first language. If the niqaab was impeding her ability to teach, (which seems reasonable, given it is desirable to see mouth shape when learning a language) then it would seem unfair to the children to have her in that role. Also, if it was discussed before she took the job that it would be necessary, as some reports have suggested, I'm not sure she should have accepted the position, knowing it would be a problem to her.

The niqaab is a thorny issue. As a feminist, I'm uncomfortable with it, but apart from that, it seems to me from what I have read, that it is not generally considered a requirement, but more an extra measure to try to get closer to Allah. Of course, that is very important to the believer, but surely a slight relaxation in the classroom situation would be acceptable, and then to go back to the niqaab the rest of the time?

I guess not.

There's another story of similar-ish bent about a BA air hostess being asked not to show her crucifix at work. BA have a uniform policy that jewellery must be worn under the clothes.

I don't think it's unreasonable to expect her to conform to their dress code. They aren't asking her to get rid of it, just to wear it under her clothes.

The hijab and Sikh turban are exempt from their uniform policy, but I think that in those cases, these forms of dress are a requirement of the religion involved. (I doubt BA would allow the niqaab, but I don't have any information on that). I'm not aware of a Christian doctrine that insists on the wearing of crucifixes.

Thus, it doesn't seem a particularly strenuous or difficult thing to ask her to keep it under her clothes, as with any piece of jewellery. I realise it's more significant to the believer than any old necklace, but still, if it's against the dress code of the company you work for, you have got to expect some comeback if you don't abide by their rules.

The BBC story on it is a bit dodgy, I think. The commentator (Clifford Longley) who thinks it's about causing offence - well, I think he's talking bollocks. It sounds to me as though BA have a policy about the wearing of jewellery and apply it to the crucifix as well. I don't think it has anything to do with this imaginary offence that may be caused to people of other religions (or no religion) when faced by a religious symbol, that is so hyped up by the Daily Mail type media. It's hard to argue that the crucifix is not jewellery. It's not just jewellery to believers, but it also is/has been a fashion.

And if it's not a necessity to the expression of the faith, (which I don't think it is), to attach all this controversy to this issue seems a bit daft. She could still wear it, why get suspended over closing a blouse over it instead of under?

I'm also confuddled by the chairman of Christians in Politics who said: "We think such ostentatious expressions of faith are starting to be pushed into the background in an attempt to treat people equally and I think there's a danger that faith will be pushed into the background at the same time."

Ostentatious is a very odd word to use about something he's presumably advocating. It has very negative associations to my mind: and according to, "1. characterized by or given to pretentious or conspicuous show in an attempt to impress others: an ostentatious dresser. 2. (of actions, manner, qualities exhibited, etc.) intended to attract notice: Lady Bountiful's ostentatious charity. "

Why does one need to show one's faith ostentatiously? I'm all for freedom of expression, and if someone wants to make political or religious points through their dress, they can do that. But not on their company or school's time. At work, you wear what your employer expects you to wear. If you can't cope with their rules, you work elsewhere. I wouldn't work in a topless bar and expect to keep my vest on. :D :P

Seems like a storm in a tea-cup to me.

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