She Got the Look: Khan v. Abercrombie & Fitch

On Monday, the EEOC supported Hani Khan by filing a federal lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch for violating her civil rights by discriminating against her on the basis of her religion. As a hijab-wearing teenager, Khan applied for a job with a Hollister Co. shop (owned by parent company A& F) in the San Mateo, California, Hillsdale Mall. The manager told her about the store’s “look policy”–which Khan describes as clothes that convey a fun, beachy vibe–and said at work she’d have to wear a head scarf in the company colors of white, navy or gray. As she explains in a recent CNN interview, Khan didn’t really think about A&F’s controversial history. She wanted to work with friends in what she considered a fun job environment. So she wore flip flops, jeans, t-shirts and made sure her head scarf was in the required colors.

Khan worked without incident in the store’s stock room, a job that required she occasionally go out on to the floor to replenish the supply of clothing.

But on Feb. 9 [2010], Khan said a district manager paid a visit to the store, which is owned by Abercrombie & Fitch, and that’s when her troubles began. Though Khan never met or spoke to the manager that day, she said she was aware of him looking at her. (AOL)

Days later via phone an A&F HR representative asked her to remove her hijab during work hours, and suspended her when she responded that she could not due to religious reasons. The suspension was followed by her being fired. This stunned Khan, 20, who grew up in Foster City, California, and says she’s been wearing a hijab for most of her life.

“I’ve worn the hijab since kindergarten,” Khan said. “Nobody has ever had a problem with it. Even after 9/11, teachers and neighbors have always been very supportive.” (AOL)

Though A & F now has a Diversity and Inclusion initiative, it doesn’t seem to have a great track record when it comes to lawsuits, including those that involve discrimination.

Abercrombie & Fitch have lost or settled several other lawsuits over their look policy. In 2009 the company agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle a suit with California labor regulators over allegations it forced its employees to buy and wear its clothes while on the job. In 2004, the company agreed to pay $40 million to settle a federal class-action lawsuit alleging that it promoted white employees at the expense of blacks, Hispanics and Asians. In 2009 a young British woman also sued the company, winning £136 basic compensation and £1,077 for loss of earnings after the company forced her to work in the stockroom because of her prosthetic arm. (KQED)

As KQED also notes, Khan is one of three women suing A&F for either not hiring, or firing women wearing headscarves. Samantha Elauf, a teen who was also supported by the EEOC in her suit, was not hired at an Abercrombie & Kids store in Tulsa, Oklahoma, because the company claimed that her simply wearing a head scarf would be in violation of its look policy. The details make it sound like Khan’s case was an example of someone with a hijab slipping through an illegal hiring policy due to location (SF Bay Area) or the local manager, until higher-ups in the company took a closer look.

Would you want to buy from a store that wouldn’t hire you? What difference, if any, might it make to a shopper’s experience if a hijab-wearing teen was re-stocking tees or ringing up your purchases at the cash register?

SM on A&F c. 2005: Abercrummy & Fitch settles

97 thoughts on “She Got the Look: Khan v. Abercrombie & Fitch

  1. I am sympathetic to A&F. There has to be some room for entrepreneurial vision. If I were to start a store in Lahore, where I grew up, I would not employ hijabis–they send the wrong (socially backward and females as pieces of meat that need to be covered) message. It would be oppressive for me to be legally required to hire these people who are making an ideological statement that I deplore. I don’t give two hoots for Ms. Khan’s backward interpretation of Islam. Is every freak to get a religious exemption?

    • It seems the only socially backward person is you considering how you who grew up in a predominantly Muslim country and assume that hijabis are socially backwards. Hijabis in AMERICA are extremely fashionable and do not impose their views on anyone. By the way based on the number of hijabis around the world I highly doubt that choosing to wear hijab is considered “backwards” and maybe in Lahore you can get away with discrimination based on religion but since America protects that right doesn’t mean anyone who gets an “exemption” is an outcast.

      • bengali disgrace: Hijabis in AMERICA are extremely fashionable and do not impose their views on anyone.

        Hijabis are probably “fashionable” at mosque or a halal kitchen (assuming that the girls can work there), but other than that, I disagree with you. If it were fashionable amongst non-Muslims, we’d see more kafirs doing so. Mostly, I see Muslim girls shun the hijabi/burqa at the first opportunity here in the USA. Even the Queen of Jordan, many Pakistani females, many Indian Muslims (like Shabana Azmi, Tabu, Sharmila Tagore) don’t sport one (or Iranian Americans that I know).

        Finally, the hijabi doesn’t impose its views on anyone, but neither does a 2-piece bikini.

        OTOH, society imposes hijabis on 9 year old girls. There was one Iranian movie several years ago directed by a female about a girl who had to wear a hijab at 9 (after menstruation), and how wearing one was a demotion in life. I’d say that 9 times out of 10, Muslimas would prefer to NOT wear one.

        • Just because you saw one Iranian movie about a girl being forced to wear hijab and her life was miserable afterwards doesn’t mean it’s true. By the way I wouldn’t take Islamic practices based on any Iranian movie since it seems pretty much all Iranian literature and movies try to bash on Islam just because of the revolution. If hijab was really a hindrance to someone would hijabis get into medical school? I have a feeling in the near future there will be a lot of hijabi doctors and it would be really obvious then that someone was discriminating on religion. Hijab is also not fashionable in predominantly Muslim environments. The best dressed girls at my college wear hijab and it’s not like anyone says “Oh her outfit would look so much better if she wasn’t wearing the headscarf” because the hijabis obviously coordinate around the hijab.

          Hani I have a feeling was one of those fashionable hijabis which is why she got hired in the first place even though her position of stocking didn’t require a large dedication to being fashionably dressed.

          • LOL at the concept of “fashionable hijabis.” What fashion world are you living in? Fashion for those who ride the “short-bus”?

          • I guess you live in some podunk town where the only hijabis you know are grandmas and everyone else dresses like white trash which must be considered fashionable for you. Maybe if you actually got out of your narrow Lahore educated mind that people in hijab don’t dress in black sacks and are only housewives you would have given yourself a chance to meet more Muslims since it seems that you really dislike them which is fine but something I didn’t expect from someone raised in Pakistan.

          • I didn’t expect from someone raised in Pakistan

            go live in pakistan as a woman, and see how you feel about the muslims afterward πŸ™‚

  2. I would support Hani’s lawsuit only if A&F started selling hijabs and turbans and hijabs/turbans is regarded as beach clothing. Coincidentally, Dr. Kulsoom Abdullah, who is also a Pakistani-American contested (not sued) one of the international weightlifting organizations to allow the use of hijab/burqas for competition. Perhaps all the Pakistani-Americans have a some initiative to raise their profile after the capture of Bin Laden?

    Anyways, I agree with A&F on this one, even though I’m against many other of their policies. Hani is as obligated to remove her head covering as an employee at A&F as an A&F female employee should cover up at a mosque or gurudwara. If I were in upper-level management at Gillette (now part of Proctor & Gamble), I would NOT want bearded/turbaned Sikhs there or any other religion against cutting hair. We must respect the dress codes of these institutions or else not take part in it. At a given company – it could be a software company, a gym, a grocery store, etc. – the employees have to be culturally vested with the products/services to some degree.

    Also, Hani, in her CNN interview, makes a point of saying that she wears her head scarf for “modesty”, and yet, she wants to work at a store that shows the most raciest ads one can imagine. This is quite hypocritical. When Kiran Chetry points this out, Hani appears to not have the right rebuttal or is making excuses that she just wants a “fun” job.

    At 2:38, they state that A&F is discriminating against her on the basis of religion. No A&F is not. She can still be a good Muslim but without a headscarf, and I’m sure A&F won’t have an issue with this.

    Finally, I don’t shop at A&F out of principle. I don’t appreciate many things about their marketing, their lewdness, and their pricing, frankly, among other things. I can’t understand why any racial minority – desi or not – would want to work at this mecca of white exclusitivity.

  3. I have zero sympathy for A&F They sell over-priced, over-sexualized clothes to impressionable teens who are looking to “fit in”.

    I’d rather organize a flash mob of people wearing a hijab and protest at their outlet

    or buy a shit ton and return it all (like the gays did with Target).

  4. “Hani is as obligated to remove her head covering as an employee at A&F as an A&F female employee should cover up at a mosque or gurudwara.”

    Not really, there’s this little thing called separation of church and state. While A & F is a private company, they’re bound by civil rights law to not discriminate based on religion. Furthermore, they first allowed her then disallowed her.

    “makes a point of saying that she wears her head scarf for “modesty”, and yet, she wants to work at a store that shows the most raciest ads one can imagine.This is quite hypocritical.”

    That may be, but hypocrisy is not covered by civil rights law, discrimination based on religion is. No Christian should be allowed to wear a cross in view. No Jew should be allowed to wear a yamaka (or however you spell it), yet Im sure even a simple survey would show these to be clearly visible.

    “At 2:38, they state that A&F is discriminating against her on the basis of religion. No A&F is not. She can still be a good Muslim but without a headscarf, and I’m sure A&F won’t have an issue with this.”

    Well, that’s up to her to decide whether wearing a headscarf is “being a good muslim” or not, as long as it doesn’t encumber her performance and ability to work (which it apparently didn’t because she was there for 4 months), if she had to sacrifice a goat at her desk each morning and claimed it was religion then a stronger argument could be made on whether the practice was reasonable. But given that they agreed to the headscarf wearing, then changed their policy, shows that it’s reasonable, and the district manager is just a racist f*ck.

  5. I was going to side with A&F until I realized she was primarily an employee in the stockroom with only limited visibility in the main showroom. The look should not be part of that job.

  6. Wouldn’t the argument be whether or not the look policy constituted a uniform or a suggestion? If the policy was specific from the beginning about what was expected, but ignored by the manager and enforced by the DM, then A&F would be in the right. But if the look policy was pretty vague, then A&F was wrong. Yes, she asked prior to employment whether or not the hijab would be an issue, but there would have been an employee handbook about what to wear while working, and I’d love to get my hand on that before making a decision. You could be a waitress working at a strip club and be a damn good waitress, but you’d still have to dress skanky, and you’d know that going in. How important was their look policy for their everyday business, and did they specify it enough that it would be clear that the hijab would violate that?

    But what do I know? I don’t shop at A&F.

  7. “You could be a waitress working at a strip club and be a damn good waitress, but you’d still have to dress skanky, and you’d know that going in.”

    “Yes, she asked prior to employment whether or not the hijab would be an issue, but there would have been an employee handbook about what to wear while working, and I’d love to get my hand on that before making a decision.”

    All that is moot. They let her work there for 4 months. You’d think they’d notice a headscarf around her head sometime during that time.

    If it was the manager’s “goof” then A & F deserves to be punished for it, and have their discriminatory practices brought to light.

  8. The only legitimate clothing rules in the workplace apply to safety or cleanliness such as steel toe shoes, hard hats, safety glasses, hairnets, gloves, etc. Anything else is simply prejudice and demonstration of dominance by the employer. The only legitimate reason for employment rules regarding facial hair are jobs that require wearing respirators and dust masks that have to seal tightly to the skin. There are no legitimate reasons for employers to dictate hair styles. Diversity is not as diverse as people pretend that it is and tolerance is not the same as acceptance.

  9. Do muslim women feel discriminated against at Hooters? I don’t know much about the law but I feel that the company has the right to specify how an employee interacting with customers should look. Especially companies like A&F who are trying to project a particular “image”. Some jobs like modeling are not for people wearing head-scarves. They just have to find something else to do.

  10. she needs to comply with the personal appearance required by the company. If she is not comfortable she can go find a job at another co.

  11. For an organization or brand which tightly controls its image, this makes sense. I am with A&F on this one. Their store personnel are a part of the overall brand/image of the firm. Just as they would likely not want a pimply teenager on their billboards and ads, they reserve the right of not hiring someone that is not beautiful (albeit by their subjective standards of what is beautiful). They have chosen to not market themselves to a “diverse” population that includes brown kids and religious kids with yamakas and hijabs and dots on their foreheads – its A&Fs prerogative. I liken this to working in an apple store and showing up in a conservative suit/tie and without an obnoxiously fun/bubbly personality or highlights in my hair. If I brought my grumpy “PC” persona to an apple store – I would get fired for not “fitting the mold” of what Mac is all about.

  12. “Do muslim women feel discriminated against at Hooters?”

    This isn’t really a meaningful comparison. Hooters is upfront about their dress code, and the experience they wish to provide when a customer comes into one of their stores. They want to serve a guys hunger and horniness at the same time. What people are missing is that A & F is discriminating on religion here, by singling out muslim religious attire and saying it violates their “looks policy”

    All this stuff about her being a hypocrite or A & F having “racy” ads, is pretty much irrelevant, in a legal sense.

  13. Well said TS.

    The company I work for forbids strapless, spaghetti and tank tops without a covering. And this applies to everyone, from client-facing execs to mailroom personnel. A private company has the right to impose what dress codes it wants.

    The only place where it gets muddy for me is if a company has rules like say, all employees must be nude (nudist resort maybe?) but then I can’t imagine myself wanting to work in such a place anyway.

    If A & F doesn’t have one and is imposing one retroactively because a few people were made uncomfortable by a particular employee… good luck with that.

  14. i’ll just say that there’s a difference between what the law is normally interpreted as, and common sense. i think based on legal precedent this law suit does have some grounds, though it might not succeed. i personally believe that A & F should be allowed to discriminate in this way. it’s a pretty discriminatory company already. the best thing to do is not patronize it, which is what most people i know already make sure to do. the company’s whole schtick is to be douchey. why not sue it for that?

    in other news, can we be careful about screaming racial or religious bigotry constantly? many hindus also have various demands made on their orthopraxy. if an elementary school in the USA had enough muslims and hindus it probably would be the best course to simply have vegetarian meals, since that would satisfy the subset of hindus and muslims who have dietary restrictions (vegetarianism is halal by definition i think). but how many religions can we accommodate, because their faith demands a certain set of behaviors? that’s an issue in a pluralistic society we’ll run up against at this rate.

    • “the best thing to do is not patronize it,”

      Suing is basically an extension of that. Even if she doesn’t win, she’s already won. She’s brought it to light, the hottie kiran chetry and us are talking about it. Make A & F hurt in the wallet, make it cheaper for them to not be a discriminatory company. That’s basically what the civil rights movement was anyway, making the US government choose between continuing segregation or the “cheaper” option of at least having a law that guarantees some kind of equality (enforcing that law, its another story)

      • notReally:Make A & F hurt in the wallet, make it cheaper for them to not be a discriminatory company. That’s basically what the civil rights movement was anyway…

        She could also make A&F hurt by not blessing them with her good work ethics and customer loyalty.

        A&F hires many Muslims. I know of Iranian descent here, and they love their job. They don’t wear a hijab, I’d like to add. I think that if a WASP wore a hijab, that she would also get laid off. It’s not about Islam, so quit being paranoid of victimized here.

        And quit cheapening the Civil Rights Movement in the USA by comparing that movement to wearing burqas at an A&F.

        Oh, while we’re at it, if gays can now marry in some states, do you think that it’s a travesty of your religious freedoms that your menfolk can’t marry 4 wives or marrying a 9 year old? I’m serious. This is not a rhetorical question. Why not challenge this. This could be viewed as religious discrimination.

  15. Make A & F hurt in the wallet, make it cheaper for them to not be a discriminatory company.

    i think the point of other posters is that A & F has a very long history of this sort of behavior, often much more egregious than in this case (also, i class racial prejudice as more egregious than religious prejudice, because religions are matters of choice, there are plenty of interpretations of islam which don’t demand headscarves, and even many religious conservatives would think putting a headscarf on a 5 year old is a bit weird). it’s actually part of A & F‘s business plan and attraction that they’re douchey. all that being said, A & F as a firm isn’t doing so well last i checked because their price point is generally perceived to be too high for the quality.

  16. Why not challenge this. This could be viewed as religious discrimination.

    as a matter of reality “religious discrimination” is interpreted on a case by case basis in the USA. it always has been. appealing to the principle of religious neutrality makes nice rhetoric, but it’s never been realized in practice. i think the liberty that religious people are given to behave in manners deviated from expectation is kind of biased myself, as someone who is an atheist and would be laughed out of court if i said that i just wanted to dress in a particular way at work because i felt like it, but pragmatically the reality people privilege religious sentiment and cause more because of its importance emotionally to the vast majority of americans.

  17. “i think the point of other posters is that A & F has a very long history of this sort of behavior, often much more egregious than in this case”

    That’s agreed. but past behavior doesn’t justify they shouldn’t be held accountable. Maybe a slip-up by management allowed this woman to work for 4 months where as she may not have had the chance somewhere else ?

    “as a matter of reality “religious discrimination” is interpreted on a case by case basis in the USA.”

    The question is one of parallels. Have they let a Jewish person wear a yamarkle (sp ?) and work? If so, then it’s pretty clear cut it’s religious discrimination. I don’t know if they have or not, but common sense leads me to believe they have at least one “visually identifiable” jew working for them.

    • notReally: but past behavior doesn’t justify they shouldn’t be held accountable.

      Should your family be held accountable for, let’s say, what the Ottomons did to the Armenians? Or what the Lebanese Shias have done/are doing to their Druze/Christian populations?

  18. “Should your family be held accountable for, let’s say, what the Ottomons did to the Armenians? Or what the Lebanese Shias have done/are doing to their Druze/Christian populations?”

    not sure what you’re responding to here… ?

    and they should be held accountable in the sense of having a sense of responsibility, if they’ve benefited from the things you’re mentioning

  19. “as someone who is an atheist and would be laughed out of court if i said that i just wanted to dress in a particular way at work because i felt like it,”

    Thats kind of the whole point, the point is not that the scarf is piece of religious gear and A & F is making some stance against religion. It’s because the headscarf has a connotation (in their eyes), and that must be unravelled, (no pun intended) that, for example, the jewish beanie doesn’t. And that’s discriminatory.

    You could say you’re part of the pointy-white-hood religion and wear a pointy white hood with eye holes cut out, but the connotation is strong with another group that wears similar hats, and you wouldnt be able to. I think the point is that she was allowed to wear it (and they didn’t say it was some kind of probationary lets test it out period) and then disallowed. And if that’s a mistake on A & F’s part, so be it. Lets come up with some data then, did their sales plummet those 4 months? Did these cool young hip customers come in wanting racy bikinis but then see a hijab then turn around and shriek in fear, thinking A & F turned into a madrassa?

    • notReally: Thats kind of the whole point, the point is not that the scarf is piece of religious gear and A & F is making some stance against religion. It’s because the headscarf has a connotation (in their eyes), and that must be unravelled, (no pun intended) that, for example, the jewish beanie doesn’t. And that’s discriminatory.

      However, if the Jew wore side-locks with Hasidic garb, then, “NO”, A&F wouldn’t hire him. If the Jew dressed like how they blend in like the way they dress in Long Island, then that Jewish person would have no problem getting hired.

      A&F doesn’t discriminate based on religion or political views, but I’m sure that they have policies on how you present yourself. They would rather hire an African-American named “Mustapha X” who presents himself like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air over a smoking hot WASPy girl who sports tattoos on her arms/neck. Period.

      I think the point is that she was allowed to wear it (and they didn’t say it was some kind of probationary lets test it out period) and then disallowed. And if that’s a mistake on A & F’s part, so be it. Lets come up with some data then, did their sales plummet those 4 months? Did these cool young hip customers come in wanting racy bikinis but then see a hijab then turn around and shriek in fear, thinking A & F turned into a madrassa?

      Hiring Hani to represent A&F products is like hiring a morbidly obese smoker-boy with Type II diabetes to work at a nutritional supplement/health food store.

      Hani, like Kulsoom Abdullah, is a drama queen who is in for a quick, fast buck and notoriety. She should focus her energies on studying, increasing the awareness of women’s rights in Pakistan (and the Islamic world), or finding a new job opportunity. Obviously, her family is bankrolling her lawsuit. How else could a 20-YO afford this lawsuit?

      Hani – Shame on your family for using you as a pawn in their predatory lawsuit and brainwashing you into hypocrisy.

      • “However, if the Jew wore side-locks with Hasidic garb,”

        ok, so I guess you’re going to keep missing the point, first of all, I’ve seen hasidics working all over the place, secondly it’s not an equivalence, a single headscarf doesnt qualify in my book as “muslim garb” , although it is a component of it.

        “Hiring Hani to represent A&F products is like hiring a morbidly obese smoker-boy with Type II diabetes to work at a nutritional supplement/health food store.”

        fine. tell that to A & F. they’re the ones that hired her for 4 months! Again you seem to keep skirting around this. Secondly, I don’t know that A & F wants to be known as some kind of sex-crazed, lust-driven company either. It’s really silly actually, to give some kind of “she doesn’t fit our mold” rationale. Really? for a company with 3.62 Billion in Revenue annually, a single girl with a headscarf in a stock room is going to unravel all of that? c’mon give me a break. A & F knew they were walking into a sandstorm with this one, they deserve what they get.

        “Hani, like Kulsoom Abdullah, is a drama queen who is in for a quick, fast buck and notoriety. She should focus her energies on studying, increasing the awareness of women’s rights in Pakistan (and the Islamic world), or finding a new job opportunity. Obviously, her family is bankrolling her lawsuit. How else could a 20-YO afford this lawsuit?”

        Maybe you can tone down the rhetoric on this “making assumptions train”, and please don’t respond back with how well-educated you are.

  20. For f&ck’s sake, people, it’s spelled Y-A-R-M-U-L-K-E. Is it that difficult to google?! ×›×ℒ×€×” if you wanna kick it original.

  21. Try wearing a lungi, dhoti or saree at your work… see how will it works. Anyway, muslims are really shooting themselves in the foot by making hiring managers nervous. Interview without scarf, wear scarf after 2 weeks on the job, happens all the time.

  22. I wore a sari to work during my entire working life in the U.S. and Canada, and no one was bothered by it. A friend of ours used to work for a major oil company (he’s retired now) and wore pants and shirt during regular business hours to the office, but always wore a dhoti and shirt everywhere the rest of the time. If he was called into the office during non-normal working hours (as often happened due to the nature of his job as their IT manager) he went in to the office in his dhoti, and again, no questions asked. I’m just providing these as data points for people.

  23. “Try wearing a lungi, dhoti or saree at your work… see how will it works.”

    Try understanding the difference between wearing an entire outfit vs wearing a minor accessory (although I think just wearing a headscarf while you wear tight jeans that show off your ass kind of negates the ‘we dont want them to look at our bodies’ argument, but again, moot when discussing the legalities)

  24. “For f&ck’s sake, people, it’s spelled Y-A-R-M-U-L-K-E.”

    yea, exactly.. the beanie thing.

  25. To respond to an earlier comment about financing the case, it seems that the EEOC and two non-profits have taken on Hani Khan’s case. Also, thanks everyone for your comments. Please keep discussion civil here on SM.

  26. Pavani,

    Thanks for that follow up. Glad you could clear up the misinformation.

  27. I’m actually surprised how many people think this is ok for A & F to do.

    I think there should be protection for people of all religions to be able to wear their religiously appropriate dress or requirements.

    There is nothing inherently about a headscarf that is incompatible with working at a clothing store– in fact women in hijabs go to the beach too! (which was apparently the A& F theme at the time) When I taught in Delhi I had two sisters from Egypt in my class who always wore the most stylish and fun headscarves– never did they seem conservative, boring, etc. The headscarf can be worn many ways, and I think it is inappropriate to attempt to force someone to remove it or to fire them because of it. Also, I am surprised how many people here operate under the assumption that headscarves are “backwards”.

    Would people feel the same if a young sikh boy on a soccer team was told he had to cut his hair or remove his turban to fit the “look” of the team?

    In the U.S., the laws prohibit discriminating hiring practices based on race/ethnicity/religion/sexuality. Unlike in India (where “fat” flight attendants can be fired, and they can advertise for “fair skined women between 5’4″ and 5’8″ with clear”) the U.S. has worked out laws to protect people. These laws should certainly apply to this situation.

  28. A few years ago an American writer Dwight McBride wrote a book “Why I Hate Ambercrombie & Fitch” in the book he goes into detail about the racism employment practices. I am glad the teenager is suing the company for discrimination. It is illegal for A&F to discriminate against the girl just because she wears the hijab and I hope she wins a big time.

  29. Also, I am surprised how many people here operate under the assumption that headscarves are “backwards”.

    Would people feel the same if a young sikh boy on a soccer team was told he had to cut his hair or remove his turban to fit the “look” of the team?

    intent matters. headscarves are not backwards in any substantive way obviously. just like tattooing is not always about attention, as in some societies it normative. in many backward societies, which readers of this weblog are familiar with, headscarves are associated with the propensity for males to control women. i think the situation in the united states is usually more complex, as obviously some young women don the scarf as a matter of identity in defiance of their parents’ wishes. that being said, the blanket statement that it is backwards is about as ill-conceived as analogizing the headscarf with the sikh male attire, which has a different original intent.

  30. I see what you’re trying to say Razib, but if you label entire societies as “backwards” I’m not sure why you think labeling a particular cultural practice as backwards is too overbroad or unnuanced. I can imagine a young Muslim-American woman taking up the hijab to rebel, so thanks for that insight, but to me it’s still sad that the rebellion would take a form that is, broadly speaking, backwards. I feel especially bad when I see black converts in hijabs in the US–to me it’s as if they escaped one problem (past pervasive racism in the US) only to embrace another (wearing a sign of subordination and females-as-pieces-of-meat).

  31. , but if you label entire societies as “backwards” I’m not sure why you think labeling a particular cultural practice as backwards is too overbroad or unnuanced

    matter of numbers. in pakistan i doubt 1 out of 100 women are donning “modest” clothing because of their free person choice and as a matter of expression. rather, i think it’s a set of social norms which i feel to be backward, insofar as i’m glad that western societies have moved toward greater gender egalitarianism. in contrast a substantial number of hijabis in the USA do so for very individualistic reasons. some of them, like the girl suing A & F, are probably not in that class, as she started wearing it when she was 5, which is really early. so probably a matter of her background in the fremont afghan community? but even in that case i don’t think the situation would be analogous to what happens in some countries, where the consequences for being a non-“good girl” are egregious. if she decided to not wear the hijab it might cause familiar distress and disappointment, but there would be no broader social repercussions outside of her subculture.

    look, i own up to being anti-muslim. my heart doesn’t bleed for hijabis. i don’t care if a sky-god says you should cover up your hair. but, my personal views are a separate issue from

    a) the facts of description. the motivations that women might have, and what the hijab might connote, and, what emotional valence people might put in their actions.

    b) and, how those facts integrate into the broader framework of how american law plays out.

    IOW, despite being highly skeptical of islam, and frankly many muslims, i think this law suit is entirely within reason and precedent in terms of how anti-discrimination statutes have been applied in the past with regards to corporations. i actually have mild libertarian sentiments here, insofar as i think the laws are out of control. but that’s not going to change how the law is.

  32. Coming from an anthropology background– I also feel uncomfortable with labeling of a culture as “backwards”. One of the cornerstones of anthropology– which I think is important for all people in our increasingly multi-cultural country– is being able to identify and reflect on your own biases about other’s cultures. Another cornerstone is trying to view and understand other cultures from thier perspective, rather than as a judging outsider– of course both of these things are rather difficult!

    I don’t think I was aware of all my biases and assumptions about Muslims and headscarves until I taught that class– the two Egyptian sisters invited me to spend time with them outside of class. They were showing me pictures of friends and family back home in Egypt. I began to notice that their cousins, aunts, and sometimes their mom was not wearing headscarves in the pictures, and asked why they had to wear them but the others didn’t (my biases coming out right there!). They were like “We don’t have to wear them, we just chose to!”. I was surprised– because before this, most of the things people hear About headscarves involves he basic assumption that women are FORCED to wear them (and while certainly that is the case in some places, it is not the only story). I remember later on we talked about swimming, and they asked me what I wore to the pool (giggling when I said a one piece suit). I asked them what they wore and they said a suit and some swimming pants down to the knee. I asked about headscarves and they said “oh we don’t wear that to the pool! How would we swim??”. So in their world– the headscarf was a choice, and was also flexible to accommodate for different activities.

    I don’t see how comparing asking someone to talk off their headscarf to asking someone to cut their hair/take off their turban is comparing two different things– my point was that both are religious acts that identify the wearer as a certain religion and also are chosen by some members and not others (i.e. not all Muslim women cover their head, and not all male Sikhs don’t cut their hair or wear a turban). The point is not the underlying intention or religious belief of the wear (which I don’t think is our place to judge or really our concern) but our respect for people to be able to follow their religious practices and not be discriminated against in the workplace for it.

    • Lindsey Reider: I don’t see how comparing asking someone to talk off their headscarf to asking someone to cut their hair/take off their turban is comparing two different things– my point was that both are religious acts that identify the wearer as a certain religion and also are chosen by some members and not others (i.e. not all Muslim women cover their head, and not all male Sikhs don’t cut their hair or wear a turban). The point is not the underlying intention or religious belief of the wear (which I don’t think is our place to judge or really our concern) but our respect for people to be able to follow their religious practices and not be discriminated against in the workplace for it.

      I think that there are differences between a Muslim girl wearing a hijab and a Sikh male wearing a turban. There are similarities of course. They are both manifestations of their religions. However, many Muslim girls wear this against their will. Like I had pointed out earlier, there was even an Iranian movie a few years ago about a girl who turned 9 and started menstruating. This was the clarion call for her to put on her hijab-thingy, and she was banned from playing with her guy friends in the neighborhood, and basically her freedoms were restricted after this. She viewed this “privilege” as a demotion – and this was the backdrop of this film.

      On the other hand, a Sikh male, also a patriarchal culture like Islam, can choose to wear a turban. Most Sikhs in the USA/Western countries do NOT wear turbans or have the surname of “Singh”.

      I’d like to point out that I’m not isolating the Muslims or finger pointing on them. You see, Sikh girls also are forced to do things that they don’t by men. Ditto for Hindus. Moreover, I’m not against the hijab. In Turkey around ’07-’08, they allowed the wearing of burqas/hijab-thingies in Turkey, and I’m for this. This actually entails MORE freedom than not being allowed to wear this in the first place.

      I respect all religions, and I respect all peoples, for sure. But I must say: The respect of religions and its adherents should be a two-way street. This law of reciprocality is a relaxed interpretation (or one interpretation) of the Golden Rule, karmic law, etc.

  33. Coming from an anthropology background– I also feel uncomfortable with labeling of a culture as “backwards”. One of the cornerstones of anthropology– which I think is important for all people in our increasingly multi-cultural country– is being able to identify and reflect on your own biases about other’s cultures. Another cornerstone is trying to view and understand other cultures from thier perspective, rather than as a judging outsider– of course both of these things are rather difficult!

    i think epoche is a and important stance, but as you say you can’t ever be totally objective. the reality is that everyone has their own perspective on what is, and isn’t, right. it gets boring when people can’t break out of their own value system and confuse the normative for the positive. but that doesn’t mean that your normative views are illegitimate, or should never be aired. many people in “traditional” societies think that western norms are decadent and indecent. i don’t. rather, i think that many people from “traditional” societies are regressive and backward. this is a conversation i’ve had in my own family a fair amount. it doesn’t mean that we think the others are inhuman, but there are deep differences.

    as far as anthropology as a discipline, i’ve had huge blow-ups with academics in this area. in part, i lean toward a naturalistic paradigm which isn’t too familiar in the USA (e.g., see dan sperber or robert boyd). second, i think the same sort critical distance anthorpologists apply to the Other they don’t bother to in their own society. so they have conventional liberal distaste for the social conservatives in american society, even though these are arguably a different culture too. the point is that it is fine to engage in epoche when you’re doing field work, writing a thesis, or engaging in academic discourse. but i think it’s a bullshit move with anthropologically trained try to push this into more normal conversation as if it has to be “hegemonic” πŸ™‚

    as for your specific case of egypt, that’s a good instance. there’s a large literature on the spread of the hijab and islamic religiosity more generally in egypt after the collapse of arab nationalism in the wake of the ’67 war, nasser’s death, etc. in terms of “thick description” that’s totally different issue from what sahar is referring to. she grew up in pakistan, where the collapse of secular nationalism as been accompanied by the rise of frankly atavistic communal institutions which have “reformed” whole swaths of society into a quasi-medieval and coercive sense, as i’m sure you’re aware.

    back to the bigger issue of the hjiab in american society, american muslims, and americans in general, are hard to box into one category. unfortunately, some muslims play into the box themselves when they make definitive assertions that their religion entails X. as a matter of empirical reality wearing a hijab is not in the same category as eating pork or drinking alcohol, which all muslims would agree is haram.

  34. I respect all religions

    is this the minimal stance which has to be met to attain decorum? i just don’t respect all religions, and don’t even religion as such. my attitude ranges from neutrality to dislike.

      • sahar, lindsey’s not a moral relativist. almost no one is. she has a moral sense and perspective, just different from yours or mine. no point is trying to delegitimize. rather, let’s admit that we all have a normative bias and not accuse others of being bigots or moral relativists because of that.

        You don’t have to like or agree with a religion to respect it.

        great. what does that matter? i of course respect what some religious people do in the name of religion. but i respect religion as much as i respect astrology or entrail divination. that being said i understand that most people have strong emotional attachments to this phenomenon, so as a matter of real-world policy i accept the necessity and practicality of accommodation. but i’m not going to make a show of respecting someone’s behavior because it’s rooted in their spirituality or religion, anymore than i respect their behavior because mickey mouse made them do it.

  35. The point is not the underlying intention or religious belief of the wear (which I don’t think is our place to judge or really our concern) but our respect for people to be able to follow their religious practices and not be discriminated against in the workplace for it.

    this makes no sense. you are judging someone when you judge that they’re following religious practices. you make an evaluation whether their religious objection is a religious objection. this is pretty clear in the legal record. see The Impossibility of Religious Freedom. in the american system the issue crops up constantly in prison in relation to “reasonable accommodation.” some prisoners claim basically made up religions, the authorities judge the religions are fake, and deny their claims to accommodation.

  36. “in the american system the issue crops up constantly in prison in relation to “reasonable accommodation.” some prisoners claim basically made up religions, the authorities judge the religions are fake, and deny their claims to accommodation.”

    which is why, ideally, government should just stay the hell out of any kind of religious enforcement or non-enforcement, or deciding whether something is within a religion or not.

    Everything should be judged based on a safety. Headscarves therefore should be allowed because they pose no imminent threat or danger. Bringing/carrying a small knife, well, that might pose a threat or danger.

  37. which is why, ideally, government should just stay the hell out of any kind of religious enforcement or non-enforcement, or deciding whether something is within a religion or not.

    Everything should be judged based on a safety. Headscarves therefore should be allowed because they pose no imminent threat or danger. Bringing/carrying a small knife, well, that might pose a threat or danger.

    right, but we don’t live in that world.

    in any case re: this case, i think it’s pretty clear that this has nothing to do with oppression of women as such. A & F is a notoriously douchey corporation. they’d pull the same move on a sikh. it has to do with a particular image they’re trying to project. is it legal to do this? it might not be. should it be legal to do this? that depends on your viewpoint (i actually think it should be, but them i’m more libertarian than the average). but it will probably be an issue which the courts will have to address indefinitely.

  38. I also think it is difficult to say “X shouldn’t be allowed, because the wearer (or doer) was forced to do it.” There are so many things within cultures or religious groups that a person may be “forced” to do to remain within that group. Also, how do we decide what is forcing and what isn’t– if an Amish teenager lives the simple life and decides to leave– they will be shunned. So they are not “forced” to stay, but by leaving they give up their family, friends, and life they have known.

    Another example– as a teenage in the Catholic Church my mom made me go to church everyday Sunday and go to Catholic Church. Additionally, she made me get confirmed (Confirm my beliefs and become an “adult” in the church)– though I did not want to and did not believe in God. These were not “enforced” through violence, threats or violence, shunning to threats of shunning– but through everyday parent to child behaviors. She believed that it was her duty as a good Catholic mother to have me do these things.

    I think this example shows how confusing defining “forced” behavior can be. Does a girl start wearing hijab because she gets approving smiles from her grandmother, or gets an ultimatum from her father, or because she began to based on what she learns about her religion?

    Is a Sikh boy “forced” to keep long hair because his mother never gave him the option to cut it, because “everyone else” in his community does it, or because he religious says he should.

    How do “we” decide what is “forced” and what is tradition–? Should we be making this choice? Is the assumption that “we” know better than the people in these positions?

    • I also think it is difficult to say “X shouldn’t be allowed, because the wearer (or doer) was forced to do it.” There are so many things within cultures or religious groups that a person may be “forced” to do to remain within that group. Also, how do we decide what is forcing and what isn’t– if an Amish teenager lives the simple life and decides to leave– they will be shunned. So they are not “forced” to stay, but by leaving they give up their family, friends, and life they have known.

      Force may include social coercion, emotional blackmail, or even violence.

      I agree with what you’re saying. I’d like to point out that even amongst Jews, they force their infant boys to undergo circumcision. In Islam, according to the Holy Qu’uran, circumcision is never commanded. So on a technical level, Muslim boys do not require circumcision.

      I think this example shows how confusing defining “forced” behavior can be. Does a girl start wearing hijab because she gets approving smiles from her grandmother, or gets an ultimatum from her father, or because she began to based on what she learns about her religion?

      Approving smiles from grandmother = social coercion (social coercion in the sense that if she did NOT, then she would get frowns) and emotional blackmail (she doesn’t want to see her grimacing grandmother). Ultimatum from Baba = Physical threats. Beating your wife is allowed in Islam (as it was in Industrial Revolution UK – see “rule of thumb”)

      Is a Sikh boy “forced” to keep long hair because his mother never gave him the option to cut it, because “everyone else” in his community does it, or because he religious says he should.

      All 3. I know many Sikhs who were, effectively “forced” (just like how I was “forced” to eat my broccoli or sleep at 9:00 PM). To be fair, every single child is, on a technical level, forced to obey their parents. However, at some point, many Sikh boys with patka (balled up hair with a “mini-turban” that covers the head and the hair in a ball) eventually get a hair cut. I know an adult Sikh who trimmed up at 26 here in Boston. So it’s ironic that the Mughal tyrant, Aurangzeb, and his henchmen couldn’t get the Sikhs to remove their turbans even after inflicting the cruelest forms of torture on the Sikhs, but capitalistic forces can.

      The same way, perhaps that some Muslim girls feel that their religion/identity is being threatened , and so they are clinging more austerely to their hijab.

      How do “we” decide what is “forced” and what is tradition–? Should we be making this choice? Is the assumption that “we” know better than the people in these positions?

      In Hani Khan’s case, it’s obviously forced. She’s blindly suing A&F because they are discriminating her based on her faith, she claims. If she is fighting for Islamic rights in this country, that’s fine. However, she wants to fight for PRESELECTED Islamic rights. I don’t see her fighting for the rights of aspiring rapists who would require four male witnesses or for us men to have 4 wives (or a temporary 1-night-stand “wife” as is allowed in certain Islamic sects). If Hani fights for these Islamic rights and the right that a husband can hit his wife but only if she doesn’t do as he asks, then I’d support her in her discrimination case (provided that A&F starts selling hijabs/burkas/chador/purdah).

  39. Lindsey, you are really descending into a bottomless pit of moral relativism. Who is to say if a rape occurred–who are we to judge whether it was “forced” or tradition? As the Americans say–give me a freaking break!!

  40. I’m not descending into a bottomless pit of moral relativism– there is a difference between basic human rights and religious practices.

    Wearing specific dress is a long way off from physical violence.

  41. Thousands of dollars for this? This proves one thing. It is possible to be both greedy and Muslim.

  42. Why does A&F still hire based on looks if they plan to put certain people in stock positions? It’s legal to hire based on how attractive a candidate is but not when because of their religion or ethnicity you decide not to hire them. This then becomes a subjective interpretation of what is considered good looking. In Hani’s case the manager thought she still looked good enough to work for A&F but the upper level management had a different interpretation. Personally if I saw a hijabi working at A&F I would possibly like the store more and be more likely to shop there if I had a respect for Muslims or the freedom of religion in the workplace.

  43. This is where Dawkins is wrong : if religion did not serve any economic purpose, it would have disappeared a long time ago. Parents bring up their children with their own b.s. masquerading as religion (‘I will join you for Lent if you will join me for Ramadan’) in hopes of one day hitting this type of payday, which obviously serves an evolutionary purpose.

  44. In Hani Khan’s case, it’s obviously forced. She’s blindly suing A&F because they are discriminating her based on her faith, she claims. If she is fighting for Islamic rights in this country, that’s fine. However, she wants to fight for PRESELECTED Islamic rights. I don’t see her fighting for the rights of aspiring rapists who would require four male witnesses or for us men to have 4 wives (or a temporary 1-night-stand “wife” as is allowed in certain Islamic sects). If Hani fights for these Islamic rights and the right that a husband can hit his wife but only if she doesn’t do as he asks, then I’d support her in her discrimination case (provided that A&F starts selling hijabs/burkas/chador/purdah).

    i don’t really get this issue. but perhaps i think that’s because i think religion is just human-created anyhow. it’s kind of normal as a matter of fact that religionists mutate and evolve their beliefs and practices constantly. i expect that american muslims will excise these barbaric aspects of sharia from their understanding of the faith as error or deviation. i don’t have high hopes for human rationality, but i do have great confidence in the power of rationalization.

    but this gets to the issue that fixating on this as a matter of religious or racial discrimination muddies the issue, as we have to ascertain what is entailed by islam. a large number of muslims believe that the hijab is entailed upon women, and a large number do not. the social norms in the USA are such that generally we allow individuals to decide what interpretation we follow. but people like hani often don’t use the qualifier interpretation, instead asserting that islam demands practice x, y, and z, at which point we treated to charming expositions on the primitive practice of marrying 9 year old girls based on the prophet’s example.

    if the issue is that it doesn’t matter what you look like in the stock room it would be simple. if hani was pierced or had a mohawk we wouldn’t be talking about religion at all, but the demands that firms can make on employees in terms of dress and disposition. as it is, the liberty to dress in a particular sort of way is justified on the grounds of religion. this is part of american social norms, you accommodate religion in a way you wouldn’t accommodate other idiosyncrasies. but it also means we have to spend interminable legal hours figuring out what “counts” as reasonable religious grounds for exemptions.

  45. i don’t get how people can support a backward oppressed company like this that has a single narrow view of what they think is beautiful. walking around the store with your shirt off or your arse hanging out makes the store no different from a butchers except the butchers is selling the meat and this store is selling the string that hangs the meat, adding a colourful label on it and selling it with a high mark up. if someone who is fat, disfigured or anything that strays away from their jude law/kate moss look applies for a job, chances are they wont get it. its not a religious factor and how islam should adjust, its this company that needs to be vilified, embarrassed and given a cool can of stone cold whoop ass.

    and lastly its a shit store that gives me a dam headache when leaving it.

  46. If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city.

    And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him.

    If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her … and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid: Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel’s virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate: And the damsel’s father shall say … these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. … But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ @boston mahesh ” I don’t see her fighting for the rights of aspiring rapists who would require four male witnesses or for us men to have 4 wives (or a temporary 1-night-stand “wife” as is allowed in certain Islamic sects). If Hani fights for these Islamic rights and the right that a husband can hit his wife but only if she doesn’t do as he asks, then I’d support her in her discrimination case”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ This is a very strange mindset you have. Basically you are arguing that the only way Hani can be truly religious is to be a literalist. The quotes on the top are from the Bible, btw. You can imagine what Christian society could be like right now(And just Imagine the United States– being majority Christian)– only why isn’t it like this? Why aren’t Christians around the country stoning non-virgins, women who were raped and didn’t scream loud enough, or people who blasphemed the name of God?

    Most modern believers of religion are not literalists (i.e. do not take each word literally in their religious book(s)). Instead, they study the word and understand it within the historical context of the time it was written. Most religions change with the time– in Christianity most people have chosen to focus on “love thy neighbor” type ideology. Even Christian literalists (who use the Bible to claim homosexuality is an “abomination” for example) are not really literalists– or they would be stoning people all the time.

    You argument that Hani can only truly follow Islam by literally following some of the awful decrees against women doesn’t make sense to me. Just as it wouldn’t make sense if you told someone they are not a “real Hindu” unless they would consider putting their wife through a trial by fire like in the Ramayan (Literally following the example), or someone not a “real Christian” because they didn’t stone the neighbor’s daughter in the doorway of her father’s home when she proved to not be a virgin on her wedding night.

    The truth is that the vast majority of present day religious people don’t believe in the extremes or historical methods of justice proclaimed in their various religious texts. We have also attempted to create an international set of human rights (much evolved from times of these stories) that can be applied to protect humans worldwide. Many of these rights are still disputed in certain areas, and it is everyone’s job as citizens to use discern the difference between important rights for all humans– and a cultural expectation of what is “right” and “wrong”. Even within the U.S. there are human rights violations (as someone mentioned here, culturally, we accept the circumcision of male infants without their consent– yet admonish other cultures for doing similar things to females without their consent).

    No culture or religion is 100% right, and both most likely have a history of violence and injustice that most would be unwilling to employ today. Yet it is much easier for us to accept the “good” parts of our own religion or culture, and ignore the parts we don’t like– while judging or condemning other cultures or religions from afar. (I.e. easier for me to judge female circumcision in Africa as a violation of human rights while not lose any sleep over forced circumcision of infant males in the U.S.).

    This is what I talk about when I talked about identifying your own biases. I don’t hear anyone hear condemning Christians with all their advocating of stoning in their Holy book.

    • Lindsey,

      Your points are well taken. I appreciate your objectivity and your knowledge of different religions. But sister, I think that you’re comparing something totally different than what I was talking about. I, for one, would talk AGAINST Christians, for example, who wanted to work at the Baha’i Lotus Temple (or Hari Mandir) but as part of their faith, they wanted to evangelicize tourists and visitors at these holy areas. I would NOT support their lawsuit. This is an egregious example of a Hani.

      OK – Lindsey, be sure to enjoy Boston today, friend. The weather is great but HOT. You may want to cover up your head, since it’s hot and sunny. I’m going to avoid alcohols and meats due to the heat.

  47. I think the crux of the initial issue is what needs to be elucidated. Razib alluded to this thought here earlier, but I am baffled as to why ‘religious’ sentiment gets privileged in this regard. If I just decided to create a religion and say that God told me I have to wear a jester’s hat as part of a divine injunction, I don’t think I could rightfully claim religious exemption when applying for a job whose basis was how a person looks.

    Furthermore, there’s a fundamental difference (both philosophically and legally) between discriminating someone purely on the basis of their belief in a religion vs discriminating based on a specific religious belief (and whether this goes against whatever marketing image A & F wants to promote). The discussion has mistakenly conflated religion with religious belief. A & F is NOT discriminating based on religion. They’re discriminating based on clothing. In other words, they don’t care whether she’s Muslim or not, it’s whether she’s wearing a particular headscarf or not. In legalese, this is termed a bona fide occupational qualification wherein companies are allowed to discriminate against a certain quality based on marketing desire. The common example used to elucidate this is that a men’s clothing company can fairly and appropriately discriminate against female models and instead hire males to model their clothing. Even religious organizations use this qualification legally. Catholic schools are allowed to discriminate based on religion when hiring presidents, for example.

    Again the point is that the discrimination being made by A & F is NOT a religious one, but a sartorial one.

    That being said, A & F sucks…they market themselves to upper-class whites (a group who I am not a part of), and their clothes are way over-priced. I say this to prove that I dont have some vested interested in defending this idiotic company.