Employers are entitled to ban staff from wearing visible religious symbols, the European Union’s top law court ruled on Tuesday, a decision Muslims said was a direct attack on women wearing hijabs at work.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) said it does not constitute “direct discrimination” if a firm has an internal rule banning the wearing of “any political, philosophical or religious sign”.
The court gave a judgment in the cases of two women, in France and Belgium, who were dismissed for refusing to remove hijabs, or the headscarf worn by many Muslim women who feel it is part of their religion.
Critics called the ban a thinly veiled measure targeting Muslims.
“A ban on religious and political symbols feels to me as a disguised ban on the hijab. I cannot think of another symbol that will affect hundreds of thousands of people in Europe,” Warda el-Kaddouri told Al Jazeera from Brussels.
“By stating that veiled women can simply take off their hijab, you imply that the empowerment of women to be in control of their own body and to make individual decisions is reserved for white women only.”
Kim Lecoyer, president of Belgium-based Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, told Al Jazeera the ruling legitimised discrimination on the grounds of religion.
“The court could and should have seized the opportunity to put a halt to the multiple discriminations faced by Muslim women and protect their fundamental rights, but they chose not to,” said Lecoyer.