THERE was a major decision from Europe’s top court last week, which will have enormous significance for Muslims across member states.
Of course, now that the UK is no longer part of the EU, it won’t have legal authority here.
But it does have enormous significance for Scotland and the UK because it highlights how Western values and some strands of Islam are in a deepening conflict.
The European Court of Justice has decreed that European employers can ban workers from wearing any visible sign of their political, philosophical or religious beliefs.
This includes the hijab, which many Muslim women consider to be an obligation of their faith.
This has made some Muslim women furious, although the ruling does state that any ban must “be justified by the employer’s need to present itself in a neutral manner to customers or to prevent social conflicts”.
It confirms a similar ruling made in 2017 that allowed employers to enforce a “neutral” dress code that critics said would disproportionately affect Muslim women.
This latest case was brought by two German female workers, a special education teacher and a cashier, who were asked by their employers not to wear headscarves at work.
The court ruling makes clear that the ban does not constitute discrimination if it is systematically applied to all beliefs, even if some religious precepts require believers to wear a certain type of dress.
Already angry voices have been raised to say that the prohibition of a garment such as a head covering could amount to direct discrimination, and therefore cannot be justified.
It’s been argued that it could result in some workers being treated less favourably than others on the basis of their religion or beliefs.
Other critics believe that laws, policies and practices prohibiting religious dress are targeted manifestations of Islamophobia. But those critics clearly don’t understand that the hijab, as an obligatory head covering, has no reference in the Quran.
The hijab has over recent decades become a symbol of Muslim identity and many have now come to think of it as an Islamic dress.
However, there is nothing in the Quran to make the hijab an obligatory head covering. In fact, the word hijab means a curtain or barrier – not a scarf or head covering of any description.
The real issue is that many Muslim women do not know what the Quran actually says, and this ignorance is their greatest weakness.
Factually, the hijab is only a traditional Middle Eastern headdress that only became popular within the last 30 or 40 years, when many women from other Muslim regions began to imitate their Arab sisters.
Some thought that wearing it was trendy while others came to believe that it was a religious obligation to wear it, making something that was cultural into a sanctified tradition.
Some, going further, adopted the burka, which covers the entire body, including the face.
This is both bizarre and cruel because women are being indoctrinated to falsely believe that God has decreed it.
IN the 70s and 80s, for Muslim women in Asia and Europe, there was no compulsion to wear restrictive clothing – even in counties such as Pakistan.
Now, many women, here and there, who do not wear the hijab are derided for not being Muslim enough.
It’s an issue that the European court has faced up to, and one that we might have to face up at some point, because extremists feed off such beliefs. Extremism can be, and is being, driven by religious symbolism – and that’s just as true in Scotland as it is in Iran, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.
The wearing of the burka and the veil are now part of that Islamic symbolism, but the Quran does not say anything about the wearing of either. It stipulates only that women and men should dress modestly.
Frankly, wearing the hijab does not make you a Muslim any more than wearing a hard-hat makes you a builder.
It’s important to understand that the hijab, the veil or the burka are not Quranic decrees and are therefore not Islamic.
They are simply cultural or fashion statements with their roots in tribal traditions from a bygone age. So, if a woman chooses to wear a hijab, it should be her choice, and her choice alone, because it isn’t a Quranic decree and therefore not part of Islam.
Islam is now in a dangerous place, in Scotland as elsewhere. Fuelled by radicalism, supposed symbols of religious faith are taking on greater and greater importance.
What is being lost in the march towards intolerance is a true understanding of the Quran, the bedrock of Islamic faith.
The Quran provides the permanent values that we all need to live together in one tolerant and inclusive society.
It is timeless, providing a blueprint for the future because those values are themselves timeless.
But too many Muslims are instead looking back to cultural or tribal traditions that should have no place in a modern society.
Even if we’re no longer part of the EU, we should all, Muslims and non-Muslims, still take a close interest in the European court’s judgement.