| Afghan-born teacher Fereshta Ludin in a court in Karlsruhe, Germany. (Reuters)
Karlsruhe (Germany), Sept. 24 (Reuters): Germany’s top court said today that a Muslim woman teacher can wear a traditional headscarf in school, ruling on an issue that is causing controversy across Europe.
The Federal Constitutional Court said school authorities in the southern city of Stuttgart had been wrong to bar Afghan-born Fereshta Ludin from a teaching job. It said there was no law prohibiting teachers from covering their heads.
She had been barred on the grounds that her headscarf would violate the state’s neutrality in religion. The hijab, as it is called in Arabic, has offended teachers, bureaucrats and modern-minded women in Europe for more than a decade.
Today’s ruling opened the way for Muslim women teachers across Germany to cover their heads while at school unless the country’s federal states have laws expressly forbidding religious symbols in the classroom.
Talking to reporters outside the court and wearing a pale yellow headscarf, Ludin said: “For years in all the court cases I felt stigmatised just because I wear a headscarf. The decision is a big relief for me.”
Deputy presiding judge Winfried Hassemer, overturning rulings by lower courts in the case, said it was up to state legislatures, not courts, to decide on the matter.
Germany’s Central Council of Muslims, which represents more than three million Muslims in the country, said the ruling gave Muslim women more work opportunities and independence.
“The ruling takes into account the fact that headscarves in Germany have long been a part of everyday life,” the council said in a statement.
Ludin’s case was the second the constitutional court has handled in as many months.
In August, it ruled that Muslim shop assistants could not be fired for wearing a headscarf, despite managers’ complaints that they put off customers.
In France, a state commission is debating whether Paris should forbid Muslim girls from wearing a scarf to class.
Not all Europeans have made such a fuss. The British, for example, generally shrug at the headscarves in their Muslim neighbourhoods as just another part of a multicultural society.
Germany’s constitution obliges the state to maintain strict neutrality in matters of religion.
Authorities in the traditionally Catholic state of Bavaria had to fight a long battle to keep the right to display crucifixes in the classroom.
Ludin had been banned from taking up a post in 1998 to teach English and German in primary and secondary schools.
Ludin had appealed to the constitutional court after lower courts had all ruled in favour of the regional government in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.
Koe Kumira, a Muslim woman wearing a patterned headscarf on a shopping errand in the western city of Cologne, said: “You have to be able to be true to your religion. I wish the headscarf debate would be left alone.”