An important story happened in Jordan in the last few days. A Jordanian woman by the name of Vivian Salameh, who happened to belong to the four percent Christian minority in the country, sued her employer for imposing the headscarf on her as part of their uniform.
Salameh, 45, worked as an assistant manager of corporate operations at the Jordan Dubai Islamic Bank since March 2010 until she was let go.
"'I'm Christian. Why should I wear something not dictated by my religion?'" Salameh was quoted as saying."
What makes this story remarkable is not the fact that she sued her employer. It is the fact that a Christian Jordanian vocally criticized an issue that is related to the country's major religion: Islam.
I have been having various debates on this topic on social media sites all day on Sunday. A good friend of mine made an argument that this was a private bank that wanted to mandate its own uniform, and Salameh simply had to respect that.
I don't see it this way. Salameh wanted to have the right to refuse wearing the headscarf (hijab) in the same token that a Muslim woman wearing the headscarf and living in the United States has the right to refuse to remove her hijab if her employer decided to impose their uniform on their employees that didn't' include a head cover. The hijab is a religious symbol, and it shouldn't be removed or donned by force.
Salameh 's courage needs to be admired and lauded. She is one of a kind. She voiced her opinion about an issue that "minorities" usually remain silent about.
As you have probably figured out by now, this story has struck a personal cord with me. Like Salameh, I also belong to the four percent Christian minority, but let me tell you why Salameh is better than me. To do so, let's go back to my 20s, that I largely spent living and working in Amman. I used to reach the peak of my frustration as a Christian Jordanian during the holy month of Ramadan where I, along with everyone in Jordan, Christians and Muslims alike, was banned from eating in public.
If you were caught eating in public you risked being fined or going to jail. So as a Christian Jordanian I had to go through a mandatory month of fasting, at least in public, though I still sneaked out and ate in a corner under a tree on the university campus or in the kitchenette at my work place. And let me tell you, sneak eating is not fun. Every time I dared to ask for my right for public eating I was told the following argument: "You are minority in a country of majority. You have to respect the laws of the land." I had two choices, take it or leave it.
I chose the latter. I packed my bags and left the Middle East. I'm a coward. I thought leaving was a much easier choice than simmering. I didn't want to live as a "minority," a quasi-citizen in the country of my birth and my ancestors' birth.
I already know the counterargument : "but Jordanian Christians enjoy a very good status, they get selected as ministers, they even work at the Royal Court, etc." I know, but sorry, that's not enough. I want my full rights and my full rights only. Taking some of my rights away for the sake of conforming to the rules of the majority is not good enough, and should not be in any country that thrives to be democratic.
Salameh, on the other hand, is different. She came up with a third choice that I didn't think of. She spoke up publicly and acted on what she saw as injustice.
Will Salameh's courageous move prompt other Christian Jordanians to break their silence? Will others come forward and publicly object to having to abide by Sharia inheritance laws that give their daughters half the share that their sons get?
Will Christian Jordanians publicly ask for the rights of their sons (or daughters) to dream of someday becoming a prime minister (although the constitution doesn't stipulate it, there seems to be an unwritten rule that the prime minister should always be Muslim as to this day no Christian Jordanian has been appointed as PM)? Maybe, maybe not, but I have hope.
And speaking of hope, I do hope that my mother is not reading this post. She told me time and time again not to open my mouth, especially when it comes to religious issues. "Do you think you can change the whole society?" She used to say . Probably not, after all, I'm just a minority.