by Anisah Kader
I have always heard or read stories about Muslim women and the discrimination they faced
with their hijab on. In fact, all these stories I have read about were from other countries. I
never thought, right here, in Singapore, I would actually experience such discrimination, but I
did. It was an unforgettable moment that would change my life.
I always wanted to step foot into the social service sector as my passion lies in counselling, advocacy and social work. I had even quit my full-time nursing job to pursue my passion and I was honestly so excited about it. However, after 3 interviews, I realized a common concern: my hijab. In all 3 interviews, they asked: “Can you remove your hijab?”.
“But why?”. I was so confused. What did my hijab have to do with the role? All I wanted to be was a role model for at-risk youths. Why do I have to remove my hijab?
The thing that baffled me most was how casual the tone was whenever they asked me to
remove the hijab, as if they did not realise how insensitive their request was to me. One of the interviewers even proceeded to ask, “but you don’t wear it when you were a nurse right?”. Again, what has this got to do with the job I am trying to apply for?
This whole experience honestly broke me. I felt very demoralised and even had thoughts of removing my hijab. I spoke about this to my sister and friends and they all told me to let it go. To walk away from the organization.
I tried to but I could not just sit still anymore. I did not want to remove my hijab, not without a valid reason (for e.g., infection control in healthcare settings). So, I mustered up the courage and wrote an email to these organisations explaining nicely the significance of the hijab to a Muslim woman and how it is inappropriate and culturally insensitive to ask her to remove the hijab for a role that does not require one to do so. I went on to state that such a request is simply unacceptable in this day and age and it is important to educate ourselves culturally.
It then also hit me that if this was being asked to me, is this also being asked of other Muslim
females who don the hijab? I wanted to find out.
I took this over to my then public Instagram account and even shared my story to Minority Voices and this really helped to gain the public’s attention. However, I remembered how heavy it made me feel inside when other girls started sending me in DMs sharing their own experiences of discrimination and how it is happening in various sectors as well—schools, public sectors, etc. I had to do more. We cannot be silenced anymore. Therefore, I did my research and reached out to TAFEP for help. I gathered necessary hotlines and work attire standards as stated by MOM and shared them on my Instagram and to these girls personally as well so that they may take necessary action. However, most of these girls shared that they did not want to make this an issue because of the fear of losing their job.
Therefore, I continued to push TAFEP to make a bigger change and I wrote in to MSF to inform them on the such dress code standards as well. To cut things short, 2 of the organizations have now officially changed their dress codes and have allowed Muslim females to don the hijab to work. The other organization has refused to take further action.
Honestly, pushing for this matter is so important to me because no one deserves to be denied a job opportunity just because of their religion or what they wear on their head. This whole experience has also made me stand up for what is important, and it has allowed me to use my voice and, allow me to speak out for the ‘voiceless’. I genuinely hope the society will take more efforts in educating themselves on the importance of multicultural awareness and sensitivity. I hope for a society where Muslim women do not have to feel fear or feel ashamed of their hijab. I hope we can all learn from one another and respect all cultures equally.
Today, I am still fighting for this as much as I can. Even though, I am no longer active online,
I do my best by educating the people around me first, educating the Youths I currently work
with and I hope to suggest talks (importance of multicultural respect) in my own organization
At the end of the day, I am not giving up just yet. I want to spread awareness as much as I
can and I hope this platform with help with that as well! Because you see, the work does not stop here. It will never stop. It is a continuous battle, but it is a battle one cannot fight alone in. I need you – yes you, the one who’s reading this.
I am grateful for the changes that will take place with regards to donning the hijab in the work places. I am grateful for the Government – that they are now giving importance to it. However, what happens after that is where the actual work takes place.
Implementing a change in dress code may be done but the key lesson here is, to understand the significance of the hijab. What does the hijab mean to Muslims? Are you aware of that? If you had answered no, then let us close this gap today.
The hijab does not only mean a religious practice. It means modesty, respect, a personal journey the female Muslim chooses to go on. It could also mean many different things to various women – but, regardless of what it means, it is something that has to be regarded. It is not something you can tell a woman to remove. The hijab is a part of her identity and you need to understand that.
When you have understood the significance of the hijab, then you have chosen to be culturally sensitive. You have chosen to be culturally aware and you have chosen to stay informed. This is what I seek of you. I’m not asking you to read up on the history of how the hijab was first introduced to women, but I am here kindly asking that you speak to someone about your uncertainty of it.
If you lack information on it, please ask. Do not ever be afraid to ask and if you really cannot find someone in your circle to do so, please reach out to me. I will be more than happy to answer your questions ☺
But moving forward, let’s start somewhere. Let us be respectfully curious, let us work towards gaining knowledge and staying informed and most importantly, let us practice kindness and empathy to the ones who may need it the most.
Also, as I close this piece, I want to say a final thing—the hijab should never act as a factor to identify someone’s capabilities. The Hijab is a part of one’s identity, it is more than just a dress code. Please do not reduce its significance to anything lower than that.
I will continue to stay firm, be strong and work my way up with my Hijab on and I urge all of my ‘Hijabis’ to do the same too. We got this, ladies!
Anisah is 28, an introvert, and a counselling graduate.
Illustration by Elisa Tanaka