The case of Aishah Azmi, the teaching aid in Britain fired for refusing to remove her veil, got me to thinking about what it would be like to try to perform the basic functions of her job while veiled.
What was her job, exactly?
Headfield Church of England Junior School, where Azmi taught 11-year-olds learning English as a second language, suspended her in November 2005 after she refused to remove her veil at work. School officials said students found it hard to understand her during lessons and that face-to-face communication was essential for her job. Officials said the decision to suspend her was made only after school officials spent time assessing the impact of wearing the veil on teaching and learning. British Panel Reprimands School in Veil Dispute
I have a little bit of experience in teaching English, and I can’t imagine trying to do it without making my mouth visible. I spent much time sitting with students individually and showing them what my mouth was doing to make certain sounds, particularly “th”. It would be extremely difficult to do so with my mouth hidden.
Additionally, I know what it’s like from the learner’s point of view as well. My experience living abroad showed me how critical to comprehension it is to see someone’s mouth. When I was first learning Polish, a conversation that would have been simple enough in person was a nightmare over the telephone. If those who were trying to help me learn Polish had done so with their mouths completely hidden, I think I would have learned far less, far less quickly.
Veiling is not the same issue as observant Jews leaving work early on Fridays to get home before shabbat begins. Leaving early does not affect the quality of an individual’s work while at work; wearing a veil, in this case, seems to do just that.
The question is whether or not personal religious convictions trump job requirements. When they come into conflict, what gives?