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LEBANON: Islamic hijab not welcome in Beirut offices, says frustrated job-seeker

October 28, 2010 |  6:36 am

-1Landing a job interview in Beirut has proved a daunting task for 21-year old Lebanese university student Lubna Mohamad.

Not because there are no jobs, but because she is veiled, she claims.

Mohamad, who sports a casual conservative look consisting of jeans, long-sleeved shirts, nail polish and an Islamic headscarf, claims she has been turned down from no less than three recent job interviews -- over the phone -- simply because she admits that she observes Islamic dress code.

When she applied for a secretarial position at a small firm in predominantly Christian East Beirut, she says the phone conversation she  had with the office manager quickly drew to an end when she asked him whether the office would have a problem with her being veiled.

"Yes, we do," was purportedly his answer.

Discrimination at some Beirut companies against women wearing the headscarf is a phenomenon Lebanese acknowledge but seldom talk about. One employee at a large and prominent company said she had not spotted a single woman with a headscarf among the 1,000 employees.

The jobs she applied for were low-key administrative posts such as typist or secretarial positions. Mohamad, a student of English literature and psychology at the American University of Beirut, says she just sought a part-time job to help cover some of her student expenses.

Pic1 Soon after she got turned down at her first interview, she applied for a position as a translator for a TV show. There, she says, she got a big thumbs down as well.

When she contacted the person in charge of the hiring, she was confronted with a string of odd questions about her "looks." In Lebanon, it is not uncommon that job candidates are asked to submit a photo of themselves with their applications.

"He asked me for my height and weight and if I think that I am pretty," she said. Mohamad answered that she wore the Islamic headscarf. The conversation didn't last much longer.

It's an issue that infuriates her and makes her lose faith in her country. She believes it symbolizes a lack of respect, discrimination and blatant prejudice.

"Everywhere you go they have a fear of Islam," she told Babylon & Beyond. "Apparently also here."

There is also the suspicion in her mind that it might be a uniquely Beirut worry about image. Some firms, even some small mom-and-pop shops, might be afraid of being perceived as backward if they have veiled women working in their offices.


Mohamad applied for most jobs through employment ads that she found in local newspapers and on the Internet. She says, however, that she lost or threw away the contact information to most places where she allegedly faced hardship because of her veil.

The straw that broke the camel's back and which spurred Mohamad to go public was when she says she was denied an interview for an administrative position at a law firm in predominantly Muslim West Beirut.

"I contact an office located in Hamra," she wrote in an opinion piece she hopes to publish.

"The lawyer is offering a part-time job for an Arabic typist. And I get surprised when the secretary asked me, 'Are you veiled?'"

The question came after she had already taken down her number and given her the office address to show up for a job interview.

"'Yes,' I told her, and I hear an 'Ahhh' at the end of the line," she writes.

"I ask her, 'Is there a problem with that?'"

"'Yes', she says. 'I’m sorry.'"

--Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photos, from top: A Lebanese newspaper ad for an administrative position in Beirut; 21-year old student Lubna Mohamad says she is having a hard time finding a job in Beirut because she is veiled. Photos courtesy of Lubna Mohamad

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