KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 25 — Two Opposition lawmakers challenged the government today to change the policies of state-owned Malaysia Airlines and other local airlines so that Muslim flight attendants can don headscarves if they want to.
Kota Raja MP Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud from Parti Amanah Negara said Malaysia Airlines and local budget carrier AirAsia could provide alternative uniforms for flight attendants who wished to wear the “tudung” (headscarf), such as long-sleeved blouses and trousers instead of the “kebaya” with thigh-high slits or short skirts.
“I challenge the government and Nazri — MAS is a government-linked company. And whatever airlines that operate within Malaysia, they are on Malaysian land.
“If they take Muslim workers from Malaysia, they should have a choice,” Dr Siti Mariah told Malay Mail Online on the controversy over wearing headscarves at work.
She was referring to Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz. The MAS acronym she used refers to government-linked corporation Malaysia Airlines, now rebranded and known as MAB.
The Opposition MP who is also a doctor pointed out that the Health Ministry did not allow nurses to wear headscarves back in the 1980s, but eventually relented.
“They had to fight for it,” she said.
The head of Amanah’s women’s wing, however, stressed that Muslim women should not be forced to cover their aurat, or intimate parts.
Aurat refers to the parts of a Muslim’s body that must be covered, but the extent of which, especially for women, varies in interpretation according to schools of Islam.
“There are some people who feel it’s not wajib. But for people who feel it’s wajib, ‘I want to do it’, give them the choice,” said Dr Siti Mariah, using the Malay word meaning compulsory in the Islamic context.
Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar from PKR encouraged business owners and management in the hospitality and travel industries to create alternative uniforms that allowed female Muslim workers to do their jobs, while protecting their right to observe their religion by wearing the tudung.
“I would expect the government to waste no time in initiating the implementation of these policies with Malaysia Airlines immediately, as the sole owner of the company through Khazanah,” Nurul Izzah told Malay Mail Online, referring to state investment arm Khazanah Nasional Berhad.
Deputy Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin, who is also Puteri Umno chief, said besides her ministry’s concern about some hotels that did not allow frontline staff to wear the “tudung”, her ministry also viewed seriously airline policies that did not allow stewardesses to don headscarves on board planes.
“The Ministry encourages the relevant parties to review their policies so that they are in line with our country’s religion, customs and culture, and do not affect public sensitivity,” the Masjid Tanah MP told Malay Mail Online.
National newswire Bernama had reported Nazri as saying in Parliament that anti-discrimination legislation could be enacted as there are currently no laws that prohibit individuals from discriminating against others.
In an Utusan Malaysia report today, Nazri has however pushed responsibility on enacting legislation against discrimination to the Attorney-General’s Chambers.