Ban the Hijab…But Only in Hotels!

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Luxury hotel
(Illustrative photo: Pixabay)

A number of five-star hotels in Malaysia have banned their female front-desk workers from wearing hijabs, Forbes reported. The ban created a minor flap in Muslim organizations in the country after it came to light, but little else.

Indeed, as Forbes asks in its headline, why aren’t more Muslims upset about it?

The magazine points to a “quiet tolerance for the ban as well as to an overall approach to Islam.”

Hardly, considering the fact that Muslim-majority Malaysia is a country that:

  • Re-instituted public caning in its northern Kelatan state, where strict sharia law rules
  • Banned a book about Islam and democracy written by a prominent group of moderate, Muslim intellectuals
  • Has separate drinking cups for Muslims and non-Muslim students in a government-run school
  • Cracked down on ex-Muslims for joining an atheist get-together
  • Runs advertising for a shampoo featuring a woman soaping up her hijab (ostensibly because it is forbidden to take it off in public)
  • Runs the first sharia-compliant airline in the world
  • Sent a politician to jail for 16 months for insulting Islam in a Facebook posting (of course, we can’t tell you what he said because it wasn’t reported – that was forbidden as well).

So why is there no backlash against this hijab ban – and more to the point, why is there a hijab ban at all?

When Western countries ban more extreme (and less mandated) practices like full-face veiling, it can practically bring down governments, as when then Canadian PM Steven Harper clashed with Liberal party opposition leader (and now PM) Justin Trudeau on a proposed niqab ban during citizenship swearing-in ceremonies.

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) recently filed a complaint against the retail store Dillards with the Texas Workforce Commission for reportedly declining to hire a Muslim woman who insisted on wearing her hijab on the sales floor (which is against store policy).

A similar case made it to the Supreme Court, which upheld that a young Muslim woman’s rights were violated when Abercombie & Fitch in Oklahoma refused to let her wear her hijab at work.

While the European Supreme Court ruled otherwise on a similar case, we see that even in non-Muslim countries, this is a contentious issue.

Yet in Muslim-majority Malaysia, which upholds sharia law in more instances than not, it’s business as usual. No protests on the streets, no public outcry to speak about.

The epitome of hypocrisy so often comes in the face of monetary loss, as in this case where it is assumed that front-desk workers in high-end, tourist-oriented hotels in Malaysia would be a turn-off for clientele.

Interestingly, what Malaysians do find time to protest about is the religious affront created by Trump’s decision to acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (a fact for the last almost 70 years). At a recent rally, Malaysia’s defense minister declared that the country’s armed forces are “readily prepared to receive any order over Jerusalem.”

Not to be outdone, the prime minister said (and quite incoherently at that), “Even if it means cutting me up into pieces, leaving behind only one piece of ‘meat’, we will not budge.”

He, along with most of the rest of the Muslim world, conveniently forgot to read those verses in the Quran that say that Allah gave the land of Israel to the Jews and will restore it to them at the end of days.

We can only conclude that in Malaysia, religion is a convenient tool to be used when it serves the purposes of the ruling class. But make no mistake about it, business is business.



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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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