French Muslims must never abandon hijab – even at the expense of their education

Pic: AA

Shabnam Kulsoom draws upon her own experience of being pressured to compromise on her hijab to advise Muslim sisters in France to never abandon this Islamic obligation – even if it is at the expense of their education and employment.

In recent days, news of the French abaya ban and the sight of Muslim girls being refused entry into schools has angered Muslims all around the world.

And it has reminded me of a legal case I fought between 2017-19 to preserve my right to wear my hijab. A case which I am convinced was a test and trial from Allah SWT but which ultimately enabled me to perform the greatest journey of my life – the Hajj.

So it is my sincere hope that my Muslim sisters in France can take lessons from my story and remain steadfast to their Islamic obligation to cover out of obedience to their Lord – no matter what the cost to their secular education.

In a recent podcast, sister Lauren Booth very briefly touched on my case when over a period of 24 hours I was harassed and pressured by multiple Muslim managers to change the colour of my black hijab.

After watching the discussion, I felt compelled to explain the power of refusing an instruction when it compromises what Allah SWT has instructed as a wajib (obligatory) act, something we cannot compromise upon and something that the majority of scholars have consensus upon.

In a nutshell, my managers told me that the colour black was apparently affiliated with terrorism, and as we had moved locations from a mixed community to a predominantly white community, my appearance being that of a “white” woman in a black hijab (I am ethnically Pashthun but very often get mistaken for a convert) would scare them and, consequently, business would be affected.

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It was obvious to me that the narrative of “good” Muslim versus “bad” Muslim was in play here within the Muslim community, so much so that we had no shame in labelling one another with degrading labels that non-Muslims have invented for us and categorised us with. What exactly is a “regular” Muslim? What is a “moderate?” What is an “extremist?” Who devised these divisive labels except those same devils who perfected the art of divide and conquer across the world?

But back to my case. After multiple conversations and after being verbally assaulted (“Get the f*** out of here” to be precise), I left my job of almost one year. The narrative my managers were pushing upon me was something so egregious and nonsensical to have remained there would have been an insult to my intelligence.

Had it been a uniform policy and everyone had to abide by it, fine. But because this was solely about my black hijab “representing terrorism” and that I somehow “represented terrorism,” how could any Muslim accept such an argument?

But Allah SWT tells us to show mercy, and being the wronged party to show mercy is an incredibly testing act. So I gave my managers seven days to respond and perhaps discuss the situation. Silence. After privately consulting a number of Shuyookh regarding what to do (this was Muslim on Muslim and I needed advice), all advised that my Islamic rights had indeed been violated and to press on ahead regardless of whether it was against Muslims or non-Muslim employers.

I’m not going to pretend what followed over the next 20 months of legal action was easy. It was incredibly stressful for me because the whole case was riddled with the most outrageous behaviour. From businesses being dissolved, websites being pulled down, no-shows in court, cost-building against me, even denying my very existence at my employment. The fact that all involved lived in the same area was also causing me immense anxiety as it was inevitable that we would see one another.

 A trial from Allah SWT

Brothers and sisters, Allah SWT never said we would simply be left alone proclaiming “La illaha illallah,” but that we would be put to test to test that very claim.

In September 2019, I attended my final hearing alone. For me, it was my opportunity to put forward my evidence and a day of closure to the whole debacle. My mindset was “ I want my day in court and the rest is with Allah SWT.”

Alhamdulilah, after a few hours of deliberations, I received judgement in my favour and damages. It was a judgement I was content with as it put a line underneath everything, but the damages I never expected to recover due to the behaviour I had faced throughout. In the coming days and weeks, I was proven correct and again bombarded with behaviour I had become accustomed to during the case.

And then finally it was over. Alhamdulillah and to my shock, I did recover my full damages, and it was those very same damages that facilitated the reward of a lifetime I thought I would never experience – performing my Hajj.

Allah SWT is the Most Just and His justice will never be matched. I fully accept that Allah SWT put me through this trial to see just how much conviction I had towards the obligation and observance of my hijab and not compromising despite all the obstacles thrown at me. Had I accepted the false narrative my former employers were pressuring me to accept regarding my black hijab, what would have been the next narrative?

In conclusion, I will repeat what I said at the very beginning of my case. Something which should resonate with every believing Muslim man and woman when facing any oppression relating to your visible identity as a Muslim and defending Islam.

“What is of primary importance to me over and above anything is that this serves as a warning to employers that such pressure upon employees is absolutely and categorically unacceptable based upon illogical ideas with no evidence.

“Young Muslim women, whether they attend schools, colleges or work in professional environments, should never have to feel that they have to compromise their religious beliefs or water down their Muslim identity for fear of intimidating people of other or no faith.”

So Muslims sisters in France: be proud of your Muslim identity and protect your Islam without compromising on obligatory instructions and acts. If that means giving up a secular education, giving up employment, so be it. Allah SWT is Ar Razzaq (The Provider) and our rewards and success in this life and the next lie with Him and Him alone, not with a system that will only be happy when you denounce your Islam in its entirety.

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