(RNS) Muslim Women at Center of Suits over Hajj, Headscarves

The federal government has filed suit against an Illinois school district for not allowing a Muslim teacher to make the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, and the ACLU has filed suit on behalf of a Georgia woman who was thrown in jail after refusing to remove her headscarf.

U.S. officials on Monday (Dec. 13) sued Berkeley School District 87 in suburban Chicago for denying a Muslim schoolteacher’s request for almost three weeks of paid leave of absence so she could perform the hajj, the pilgrimage to the Islamic holy city of Mecca.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

13 comments on “(RNS) Muslim Women at Center of Suits over Hajj, Headscarves

  1. montanan says:

    I agree with the issue in Georgia – she should be able to wear appropriate religious clothing. The one in Illinois puzzles me – why can she not delay the Hajj? And why is it the problem of the school district? (The article at one point states it would be paid leave, while in another states it would have been unpaid, so I would not be at all surprised if facts are not clearly delineated in other aspects of this.)

  2. Katherine says:

    Yes, but the issue of the headscarf in the Georgia court room was resolved within hours after she went to jail, when police determined the court security people were wrong and released her. Why the suit? And in the case of the teacher, one year after she was hired she wanted three weeks of leave. Even if unpaid there would be continued benefit costs plus the cost of finding and employing a suitable substitute for three weeks. The usual accommodation of religion cases involve allowing a couple of days for special religious holidays. Three weeks one year after hiring?

  3. montanan says:

    #2 – I would agree with you on both counts. The suit in the Georgia case is because that is how our society (very wrongly) works. I therefore can understand (though I don’t agree with the filing of the suit) that one.

  4. Wilf says:

    I believe the article is wrong about “paid leave of absence” – later we see “unpaid leave of absence” in the same article, and other articles I’ve seen have said unpaid.

  5. AnglicanFirst says:

    “U.S. officials on Monday (Dec. 13) sued Berkeley School District 87 in suburban Chicago for denying a Muslim schoolteacher’s request for almost three weeks of paid leave of absence so she could perform the hajj, the pilgrimage to the Islamic holy city of Mecca.”

    “On Tuesday (Dec. 14), the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the city of Douglasville, Ga., charging that police officers at a municipal courthouse violated Lisa Valentine’s First and Fourth Amendment rights when they told her she could not enter a courtroom while wearing an Islamic headscarf.”
    The above two quotes tell only one part of the story. Absent are the news stories where in the USA where non-Muslims are not permitted to express/practice their religious beliefs/practices as the result of govermental action.

    If a Muslim teacher is permitted to take a leave of absence to make a three-week Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca when she/he feels the need to do so, then a Christian teacher has a right to announce that he/she has the right to go into religious seclusion for meditation and prayer or to make a missionary trip to some part of the world for the same period of time when he/she feels the need.

    Since when does a Muslim special need become more special than that of those of other religious groups in the USA?

    As for the Muslim headscarf, a publically symbolic requirement for many Muslim women. When does that requirement trump a requirement felt by many Jewish men to wear their yamulkahs while teaching in a public school or a Christian man/woman’s wish to openly wear in full public view a cross around his or her neck as a sign of his/her Christian witness while teaching in a public school?

    What is lacking in these frantic attempts by various levels of government to accomodate people of the Mulim faith in the USA is a lack of reciprocity toward Christians and Jews who have lived in this country well before the relatively recent arrivals of Muslims with their particular requirements.

  6. Old Pilgrim says:

    the montanan asked
    [blockquote]The one in Illinois puzzles me – why can she not delay the Hajj? [/blockquote]

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the Hajj occurs at a set time each year. I don’t know how it’s tied to the Islamic religious calendar, but I think the Saudi Arabian government sets the date. PBS had a special (some years ago now) about an American woman convert who participated in the Hajj.

    Of course, montanan may have meant the woman should have put off the Hajj until another year, not just gone at a different time in the same year.

  7. Branford says:

    New Pilgrim, she can delay the Hajj – the religious command is to do the pilgrimage once in one’s whole life, and it isn’t as strict as she claims – the requirement is that pilgrimage be performed specifically if the party has the means to do so. She could wait until she retires to do this. She is under no obligation to do this until she has the means (time off from her job).
    Also, the Hajj is five days long. If you add in two days for travel time, at most she’d need seven days to do this. If she adds in a weekend at one end, she would have to take off five working days and have a total of nine full days to travel to and perform a five-day ritual. As I’ve read in comments elsewhere “sure, not much sight-seeing, and that’s a tough schedule, but what she demands is the ability to perform a religious function — how she adds on two weeks for sight-seeing is beyond me.”
    Also the Hajj dates vary from year to year, so she could wait until it naturally coincides with already-scheduled breaks in the school year. This is obviously a test case and I don’t see any reason for the DOJ to get involved, but then again, I thought they should have gotten involved in the New Black Panther intimidation case, so what do I know?

  8. Paula Loughlin says:

    I see the long term goal of both suits as a way to advance Sharia law. If they can not advance it by legislative means they will have it done by judicial fiat.

  9. Katherine says:

    The Hajj is specified in the Islamic calendar. It moves about ten days every year since the Islamic is a lunar calendar which never adds extra days to make the seasons stay put. This year it was in November. This teacher could wait ten years or so until the Hajj occurs in the summer and go then, or if she can’t bear the thought of doing it in the Saudi summer (a daunting thought, indeed), she could do it after retirement in a year when the weather is better. There is a “little pilgrimage” which can be done at another time, but this does not fulfill the Hajj. #7 Branford is right. “If able” includes “having the time off work” to do it. Doing the Hajj immediately is not a requirement of the religion.

    The risk to employers is, as noted above, that once you start giving extensive time off for “religious needs” there will be no end to it. On another note, here in NC a young girl is fighting a school board over her right to wear facial piercings because she belongs to the Church of Body Modification.

  10. Ross says:

    I’ve heard that some Muslims are trying to make the Hajj a year-round event. The problem now is that with the Hajj being a specific five days each year, it creates enormous logistical problems for Saudi Arabia in handling that huge number of people all coming at exactly the same time; they want to spread the crowds out over the whole year.

    If I had to guess, I would imagine this has about the same chance of happening as the periodic attempts to reform the date of Easter.

  11. Katherine says:

    I’d guess so too, Ross. The Hajj is in either the Qur’an or the hadiths much like the Jewish holy days in the Old Testament. It is to be performed on particular days in a particular Islamic month. Islam is a religion of specific commands, not principles to be applied. If they admit that something of Allah’s revelation could be modified, the whole thing collapses like a house of cards.

    At least Easter and Christmas can be celebrated anywhere.

  12. Larry Morse says:

    Three weeks, paid or unpaid, is excessive, to put it mildly. What would have happened if I had asked to go to Jerusalem for three weeks at Easter? The administration would have been incredulous – and would have refused out of hand, as so they should. Larry

  13. libraryjim says:

    Everyone seems to be overlooking an important sentence in the Georgia case:

    [i]The city of Douglasville later issued a press release stating that officers erred; the Georgia Judicial Council adopted a policy in 2009 stating that religious head coverings were permissible in state courthouses.[/i]