Wearing hijhab in the UK is okay?
The recent comments made by Boris Johnson in his Telegraph column on burkas has reignited the debate over religious face veils caused by Johnson's remarks.
What's the difference between a burka and a niqab?
As a Muslim woman, you have the choice between several types of veils that you can wear. There is the hijab, which is a headscarf that covers the hair, the niqab, which also covers the face, but leaves the eyes uncovered, and the burka, which covers the entire face, but has mesh over the eyes to allow you to see.
Although there has been no research into the number of women wearing the burka or niqab in the UK, it is likely that the number is very small. Rough estimates in France from 2009 have put the number of fully veiled women between the low hundreds and the low thousands.
The number of Muslims in England and Wales isn't big, but these figures are a fraction of the total. Around 3.2 million people said they were Muslim in 2017, but the government said there were 5 to 6 million Muslims in France in 2010.
During a 2016 Ipsos Mori survey, people in Great Britain usually overestimate the percentage of Muslims. The average guess was 15%, but the ONS said that year the real figure was closer to 6% (although that was just for England and Wales).
It has been effective in a number of European countries to ban the burka under certain circumstances in the past few years. A petition filed here in 2016 that called for the ban of “the wearing of burkas, any full or partial front face coverings in public” (which attracted 19,765 signatures) was responded to by the government as saying that it had no intention of making it a criminal offense to wear face coverings.
“Face coverings can be worn in public places for a variety of legitimate reasons, from religious observance to keeping warm in inclement weather,” the government said.
What are the rules regarding face coverings?
There is a clause in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 which gives the police the ability to remove religious face coverings or veils if they believe that the garments are being worn as a disguise. The government's response to the petition says that these powers exist under section 60AA of the Act.
According to the guidance provided by the police regarding stop and search powers, officers should allow religious items to be removed out of public view when they are worn over heads or faces for religious reasons. It also states, where practical, that it should be removed only by someone of the same sex as the wearer.
When it comes to the UK passport photos, women who wear hijabs are allowed to wear them in the passport photos, but if they do not wish to wear them, they cannot have anything covering their faces.
A written question was asked by the then-minister of state for the Home Office, Mr. Mike Penning MP, in 2014, during the coalition government, and the minister replied that on arrival in the United Kingdom, passengers who are wearing veils or face coverings will be asked to remove them in order to compare their appearance to the photo in their passport on arrival.
The Home Office in 2014, when responding to a Freedom of Information request, quoted part of border force guidelines that are similar to the rules for police: "Where there may be religious sensitivities about ordering the removal of such an item, the officer should allow the item to be removed out of public view if necessary".
As part of another document issued by the border force on how to examine passengers who are veiled for religious or cultural reasons, the staff is advised that if there isn't a female officer available to inspect the passengers, they can wait for a male officer.
It also states that "although the arrival of a female officer may result in some delay for the passenger, that is not a reason to waive the visual check in order to ensure that the passenger is the rightful holder of the document."
Earlier this week, the NHS announced that its employers' dress codes could make it more difficult for employees to wear burkhas and veils.
In 2014, the Telegraph reported that 17 NHS hospitals had “instituted a ban on front line staff wearing the niqab” as part of a ban on Muslim attire. There are at least two trusts that have written dress codes that either prohibit the use of niqabs altogether or state that facial veils are not permitted when talking to patients, visitors, or staff members during clinical shifts.
Is it possible for employers to ban the wearing of veils in the workplace?
It is a non-departmental government body that provides guidelines on workplace dress codes and religious symbols and it is a part of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
According to that guidance, employers are required to ensure that their dress codes do not discriminate against employees directly or indirectly. According to the commission, direct discrimination can rarely be justified when someone is treated worse than another in a similar situation due to their religion or beliefs. This kind of discrimination is seldom justified.
Basically, indirect discrimination is when a rule or policy is applied to everyone, but has a particular impact on a particular group of people because of their religious beliefs and beliefs. Using a policy that is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”, the commission says, can sometimes be justified as a means of justifying this type of discrimination. In the context of maintaining a company's image or protecting the health and safety of their employees, this is a legitimate aim.
A ban on headscarves would be unlawful direct discrimination according to the commission, because it would apply to a few religious symbols and dresses while not applying to others. As a result of the European Court of Human Rights rulings in two UK cases involving employees who wanted to wear visible crosses at work, this ruling has been made. They ruled in favour of one, an airline check-in officer who they argued had the right to express manifest her belief in this way. They ruled against the other, a nurse, based on health and safety considerations.
Generally, the commission states that "health and safety reasons can in some cases justify asking an employee to remove a particular symbol or type of dress" although employees must be clear on the reason a particular religious symbol poses a risk and ensure that the practice does not discriminate.
Two subsequent cases that reached European courts were concerning women (neither in the UK) who wore hijabs and were both dismissed as a result. They ruled against one, because the dress code of her employer prohibited outward expressions of personal belief. They also ruled in favour of the other, whose employer sacked her for wearing a hijabi as a result of client complaints.