Press Statements

Ministries Must Intervene to Change Pervasive Hijab-Ban Policy

In a recent statement, Cheah Swee Hee of the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH) claimed that the ban on frontline hotel staff from wearing hijab was an International Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for “all hotels”;[1] yet in the same article, hotel manager Syukri mentions that he left working at one hotel and opted to start working in another hotel that does not have such ban. And, of course, any international traveler will know that Cheah Swee Hee’s claim is inaccurate. Staffs wear hijab in hotels all around the world; the Gulf States, Turkey, Indonesia, the UK, the US, do not impose restrictions against religiously mandated attire for their employees; and clearly, many hotels in Malaysia do not either.

In short, there is no international SOP banning the hijab; and yes, it is simply discriminatory. What the MAH must understand is that discrimination does not work to its advantage in a capitalist marketplace.

There is no data to suggest that hotel staff wearing hijab negatively impacts customer satisfaction, but forcing staff to refrain from wearing hijab, on the other hand, unnecessarily limits the pool of qualified and potentially productive workers available for such jobs, as they will shy away from pursuing work at hotels that restrict their personal religious expression. This is a particularly bad policy in a Muslim majority country like Malaysia, where clientele expect to see staff who represent the nation.

According to the latest data, occupancy rates for hotels in Malaysia have significantly declined in the 10 years since the MAH implemented the ban on hijab, [2] and at least part of the explanation for this must be due to customer dissatisfaction with the quality of service. The hospitality industry is notorious for the high turnover rate of its workforce, and instead of welcoming all interested job-seekers, the MAH is closing its doors on thousands of young Muslim women from pursuing hospitality careers — women who could potentially turn the declining statistics around — simply because they insist on imposing a ban on the hijab.

This policy is clearly a matter of personal prejudice and cultural intolerance. It is not a policy based on sound business practice, nor is it made in compliance with the law. As such, it can be changed, and it should be changed.

Malaysia is a country with rich diversity and religious expression is not something we prohibit. It is something we respect and value and that is what turns our diversity into a cohesive national identity instead of into divided sectarian rivalries. When you begin to ban one group’s benign religious expression, it creates animosity – which is anathema to everything the hospitality industry strives to provide.

While we agree that employers have the right to impose dress code on their employees — and to a certain extent even to restrict certain forms of non-integral religious expressions if they cause undue hardship to the employer or to fellow staffs or for other security reasons; [3] such restrictions however must only be allowed to be imposed if they are absolutely necessary. The wearing of the hijab by Muslim staff certainly does not fall under any of those category that warrant such restriction.

We urge the relevant ministries; Ministry of Tourism and Culture and Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development to take appropriate action towards changing the policy that clearly discriminate women on religious ground.




[3]Hajah Halimatussaadiah binti Kamaruddin v. Public Services Commission, Malaysia & Anor [1994] 3 CLJ 532


Azril Mohd Amin, Chief Executive, CENTHRA and Chairperson, MACSA or the Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Process.

Associate Professor Dr. Rafidah Hanim Mokhtar, President of The International Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education (WAFIQ) and Co-Chairperson, MACSA.

The Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Process (MACSA) is a coalition of civil society organisations with the specific aim and object to look into, as well as advocate, human rights issues in Malaysia for the UPR Process.

Also published in MalaysiaKini and 1Media.

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