Flowing Jilbabs and Religious Discrimination

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The EAT has upheld a Tribunal’s decision that a limit on the length of a ‘jilbāb’ was not discrimination

A ‘jilbāb’ is any long and loose fitting coat or garment and is worn by some muslim women. The jilbāb covers the entire body, except for hands, face, and head. The head and neck are then covered by a scarf or wrap (khimar). Some women will also cover the hands and face (niqab).

This type of garment is worn to comply with the Quran’s stipulations about modesty, in both men’s and women’s ‘gaze, gait, garments, and genitalia’ (see the Encyclopaedia of Islam and Muslim World).

In the case of Begum v Pedagogy Auras UK Ltd Ms Begum applied for a job as a nursery assistant and was asked if she could wear a shorter jilbāb that was not a trip hazard. She said ‘no’: she felt obliged to wear a long, flowing jilbāb, and took a claim of indirect discrimination on grounds of religion or belief against the employer.

Ms Begum lost her claim on two grounds:

  • she had not shown that her faith required a jilbāb that went beyond ankle level.
  • even if her faith required such a garment the employer’s reason for requiring a shorter one was justified.

The EAT upheld the Tribunal’s decision, finding that there was no error of law in its approach and that its findings were not perverse.

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