When Vivan Salameh went to work for the Jordanian Industrial Bank twenty-five years ago, she signed an employment contract that did not include a dress code. Over the course of her career, she rose to assistant manager of corporate operations. But her bank was taken over by the Jordan Dubai Islamic Bank in March, 2010.
The new owners did not get Ms. Salameh to sign a new employment contract. She continued under the terms of her old one. And therein lies the basis of Ms. Salameh’s lawsuit against the bank.
Ms. Salameh is a Christian, one of the approximately 240,000 Christians in Jordan, 4% of the nation’s population. As such, she does not wear the Muslim hijab or any variation on a Muslim head covering. In January, 2011, the new owners of the bank issued a “unified” dress code that included floor-length skirts and head coverings for female employees. Ms. Salameh refused to comply because the head covering is a religious requirement and she is not a member of that religion.
Bank spokeswoman Eman Affaneh confirmed that “We are an Islamic establishment and the dress code is a reflection of our conservative Muslim traditions and values.”
For 17 months after the new owners issued their dress code, no action was taken against Ms. Salameh, who was the only one of six Christian women who refused to wear the head covering. She wore the long skirts, but refused the head covering on religious grounds. Ms. Affaneh explained to the press that the head covering is “a fashionable piece of white cloth that shows the hair line – like what women wear in the Gulf Arab countries. It’s not a head scarf covering all the hair.”
On Sunday, May 20, Ms. Salameh was fired, after receiving two notices to wear the head covering or lose her job. She has filed suit in Jordan’s secular courts. Though the head coverings are “fashionable” in the Gulf states, Jordan is not in the Gulf. It has a diverse population with a broad range of interpretations of the Muslim tradition of women covering their heads. The wearing of the hijab is neither mandatory nor extensive in Jordan. Ms. Affaneh confirmed that the sole reason for firing Ms. Salameh is the issue of head covering, saying, “she refused to comply with the terms of her contract, which stipulates that all employees must respect management regulations and bank bylaws.” But, Ms. Salameh did not sign a contract that contained those stipulations. Her contract was with the previous owners, and no attempt was made to make the employees sign new ones when the bank changed hands.
The court will first decide when it will hear the case, and then it will be argued on two grounds, that Ms. Salameh’s contract did not include the dress code and the head covering violates her religious freedom.
Vivian Salameh is 45, not a radical youth, but an established, successful businesswoman. To her, this is an issue of rights. “We are not in Iran. We are in Jordan, and we must continue to enjoy personal and religious freedoms as stipulated by our constitution.”
Now, perhaps the Jordan Dubai Islamic Bank might like to explain this picture from a Dubai fashion magazine…..