It’s far from over.
In the last few months, WAFIQ has collected data from a number of hotel employees and hotel graduate interns who testified that they have been discriminated against based on their religion, as they are not allowed by their employers in the hotel and tourism industry to wear the hijab.
Many highlighted their plight to WAFIQ to capture the attention of the media and authorities, but very few were ready to come forward. There are two main reasons for this, firstly the fear of losing their job, and secondly, the fear of being thought of as bad Muslims for continuing to work without putting on the hijab. These women, nevertheless are firm on the obligation of wearing hijab, and they do so as soon as they punch out of the office.
The solution to these issues is not as simple as asking the ladies to ‘quit their job’. The issue is much bigger than that. The issue is that of big international corporations being allowed to freely practice religious discrimination against Muslims in Malaysia, a country in which Islam is the Religion of The Federation! This has been going on for decades, and this practice will continue for many more years to come if we, as a society, and the government alike do not do anything about it. These employers have also threatened to “dispose” of their long-serving employees at the slightest available opportunity for simply requesting to follow the tenets of their religion. This is not an issue of weak ‘iman’ on the part of these women, for continuing to work in such conditions. This is an issue of discrimination based on religion. It is unfathomable that this is happening in Malaysia. Even in the United States, discrimination against women with hijab has been heard at the level of the Supreme Court which ruled that “an employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions”.
WAFIQ met 3 out of 12 women, whose requests to wear hijab at their work place, were turned down by their employers, a 5-star hotel in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.
Puan X, the most senior of the 3 has been working at the hotel for almost 27 years. She currently holds the post of Cashier, also known as Captain. She has 4 children and a grandchild.
She explained in her words that faith is a spiritual journey. When she first joined the hotel industry, it was in the 1990s. There were not many avenues at the time for one to learn about religion and to fully understand that hijab was an obligation. Furthermore, wearing hijab was seen as a sign of backwardness. As the years went by, Puan X had more opportunities to attend religious classes and knowledge about Islam became more accessible than before. She yearns to fulfil her obligations to wear hijab. As a permanent staff and a loyal employee of the company, it was hurtful that this request was not entertained. She has 2 more children in higher education that she has to financially support. It was painful listening to her ordeal as her years of experience were totally discounted by the management because the superficial “hair-free” style mattered more to them.
Puan Y, an employee for the past 10 years, a mother of 4 and also a grandmother of one, related how the management gave her absurd reasons for not allowing their staff to wear hijab. She works as an event manager in the hotel organizing meetings, dinners and weddings. One of the reasons they gave for not allowing her to wear hijab is because her work would involve serving guests liquor and it would be inappropriate for her to do so whilst wearing hijab. Initially she argued that most of the hotel clients are from the government agencies, holding meetings or seminars where liquor is not served anyway. Secondly, there were only about 4 to 5 weddings per year at the hotel, and even fewer involving liquor. For years, she has been arranging and swapping duties with non-Muslim colleagues to handle the liquor part without problems, yet still “liquor” was used again and again as an excuse to deny her rights to wear hijab.
The second excuse given to Puan Y, as strange as it gets, managed to inject some humour into our discussion. According to the hotel management, staff who come face to face with hotel guests are not allowed to wear hijab and these include the hotel cleaners. Wearing hijab is seen as “not presentable enough” by the management. Puan Y jokingly told us, at the end of the day after the hard work of cleaning rooms, the cleaning staff usually appear more unkempt without hijab. It is actually much more professional-looking and presentable to have attire with hijab. Hotel cleaners are not front-liners, yet they are still subject to these discriminative and ridiculous rules. Their requests to wear hijab have also been denied by the management.
Puan Z, manages the spa of the hotel. She has 15 years of experience. All she asked for was permission to wear the hijab, and she will continue doing her work professionally and with dedication. Wearing hijab will not affect her massage skills or management abilities in any way. Yet her request was also denied with flimsy excuses.
These women have been denied their rights as Muslims to observe their religious obligations. They are good workers, loyal to the company, and with vast and valuable experiences. They have to work to put food on the table. They are hoping that their cases will be heard and that everyone will also fight fiercely for their cause. WAFIQ will continue working with relevant authorities to solve these problems but in the meantime, please spread the word.
Let us be the voices of these women. Let us put an end to this illegal, insensitive, heartless and discriminative practice by big corporations which, in the past have succeeded in denying many young interns the opportunity of a job, simply because they are wearing hijab.