How a Muslim headscarf sparked a row of discrimination at a Hong Kong school

After teaching assistant Zahra Khan was ordered to tell a student to take off her hijab, a religious headscarf worn by some Muslim women, she donned one herself as a sign of solidarity.

“I started wearing a hijab to support students and to make teachers understand what it is,” Khan, who works at a Salvation Army school in Hong Kong, told HKFP. “I wanted them to be more tolerant of their non-Chinese students.”

Archive photo: Piqsels.

But what Khan – herself a Muslim – went through left her “upset and frustrated” by the way minority ethnic groups are treated in Hong Kong, underscoring the need for more understanding and education in schools and schools. At work.

“Unhealthy and unhealthy”

In early June, a student from the Salvation Army’s Centaline Charity Fund school, who wore a hijab, was reportedly discriminated against by a teacher, who told her it was “unsanitary” and ” unhygienic, ”according to Khan. The teacher added that it would cause pimples on the student’s forehead and could suffocate him.

Khan said she tried to make the teacher understand the importance of the hijab for Muslim women, but her contribution was bluntly rejected. In an act of unity, she wore one herself in an attempt to change the teacher’s mind.

She said that she was asked to take it off herself and called to the principal‘s office, where she was told that she would “scare the students and teachers” by wearing the headscarf.

Salvation Army Centaline Charity Fund School. Photo: Wikicommons.

“They said to me ‘If I want to protect the image of the school, I should take it off,” “she said.

The comments, she said, affected her sanity. Whenever she was in the school staff room, she was “constantly afraid” of retaliation from the teachers.

“I didn’t want to go to work anymore. I didn’t feel comfortable. I didn’t feel respected, ”she said, adding that she had developed headaches and anxiety in the weeks following the incident. “I couldn’t eat or sleep, and it cost me a lot of mental and physical energy.”

Khan filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and the Bureau of Education (EDB), which she said ended some of the harassment. In a statement to HKFP, a spokesperson for the Salvation Army said it was “committed to equality” and “denies discrimination and affirms diversity”.

“The government should organize cultural programs in schools and workplaces to ensure that employees from different backgrounds have better relationships with each other… It also makes minority groups feel accepted. “

Adel Malik, Muslim council

“We take all allegations of discrimination seriously. We will conduct a thorough investigation and spare no effort to facilitate open communications in the event of a misunderstanding, ”the statement said.

However, Khan says the incident shouldn’t have happened in the first place, adding that the Muslim student changed schools as a result.

“They didn’t apologize to us,” Khan said. “They said it was just a misunderstanding.”

According to Adeel Malik, chairman of the Hong Kong Muslim Council, students and adults are often discriminated against for wearing the hijab, causing distress and a feeling of isolation in the community. Malik has received several complaints from members of the community who have been discriminated against for wearing a hijab or other religious clothing. With the help of the Muslim Council, some families have filed official complaints.

Adel Malik. Photo: Muslim Council via YouTube.

In 2017, a Muslim student at a local Tung Chung school who was asked by teachers to remove her hijab was finally allowed to wear it after the EOC was alerted to the incident.

However, experts say more should be done to ensure inclusion and harmony, and the city’s racial discrimination ordinance has many “flaws” that need to be addressed.

The ordinance, unlike other anti-discrimination laws, does not cover the exercise of government functions or the exercise of its powers. Since its implementation in 2009, no person has been prosecuted under this law.

“The government should organize cultural programs in schools and workplaces to ensure that employees from different backgrounds have better relationships with each other,” said Malik. “It also makes minority groups feel accepted. “

Malik added that while these programs are happening in some places, he hopes they will be widely implemented across Hong Kong.

File photo: GovHK.

The most recent government census puts Hong Kong’s ethnic minority population at 8 percent, including foreign domestic helpers. Pakistanis make up 3.2% of the total percentage, more than half of whom have lived in Hong Kong for more than 10 years.

According to the Report on the situation of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong 1997-2014 by Puja Kapai, University of Hong Kong, equal access to opportunities for Hong Kong’s ethnic minority population remains elusive due to many systemic shortcomings, including racial discrimination in school and in the workplace .

Meanwhile, a research paper titled Pakistani children’s dreams by The Zubin Foundation, an NGO that works with the city’s ethnic minority groups, found that a majority of survey participants experience exclusion in Hong Kong even though they call the city their home.

A majority of participants said they were treated the same as refugees and felt isolated because of their association or adherence to Islam.

“They make faces at us”

“[I have] hide the hijab for fear of discrimination, ”said one participant. “Because we wear the hijab, most of the locals make faces at us. They think we are bad.

According to the study, a majority of participants wanted their religion to be better understood in Hong Kong, so as not to feel the weight of negative stereotypes attached to being a Muslim in the city.

Archive photo: Janko Ferli / Pexels.

These comments are reflected in Khan’s hopes for Hong Kong.

“I don’t want ethnic minorities to be discriminated against because of their appearance,” she said. “If they can’t be what they are, then they won’t be able to thrive in our society. I want students to know that they are not doing anything wrong by dressing a certain way.

Zahra’s name has been changed to protect her job.