AMMAN // A Christian Jordanian woman said yesterday that she is suing her Gulf Arab employer for arbitrary dismissal after she refused to accept a new dress code that forced her to cover her head.
The incident is rare and could stir religious tensions in Jordan, a predominantly conservative Muslim nation whose western-educated ruler - King Abdullah II - is perceived as a staunch supporter of moderate Islam and tolerance of other religions.
"We are not in Iran, we are in Jordan and we must continue to enjoy personal and religious freedoms as stipulated by our constitution," said Vivian Salameh, 45. An assistant manager of corporate operations at the Jordan Dubai Islamic Bank since March 2010, she was sacked a week ago.
"I'm Christian. Why should I wear something not dictated by my religion," she said.
Eman Affaneh, a spokeswoman for the bank, said that Ms Salameh was dismissed because "she refused to comply with the terms of her contract, which stipulates that all employees must respect management regulations and bank bylaws". She said: "We are an Islamic establishment and the dress code is a reflection of our conservative Muslim traditions and values."
Ms Salameh said she had worked for Jordan's Industrial Development Bank for 25 years until it was acquired in 2010 by the Jordan Dubai Islamic Bank - an offshoot of the Dubai Islamic Bank based in the United Arab Emirates.
In January last year, the new management issued a regulation stipulating a unified dress code for its workers, including waist-to-heel skirts and head covers for female employees.
Ms Salameh said that she accepted the uniform, but refused to wear the head cover on the grounds that it violated her religious beliefs and because the contract she signed when she was hired did not oblige her to adhere to a dress code.
Ms Affaneh said that the head cover "is a fashionable piece of white cloth that shows the hair line - like what women wear in the Gulf Arab countries.
"It's not a headscarf, covering all the hair," she added.
She said that five other Christian women employees accepted wearing the head cover.
Ms Salameh said that when she refused to do likewise, "no action was taken against me for nearly 17 months, until two weeks ago when I was suddenly given two notices, five days apart, warning me that I will lose my job if I don't wear the head cover," she said.
"When I stuck by my decision, I was verbally fired last Sunday", she said, adding that she had filed a lawsuit against the bank. A court will decide when it will hear the case.
Ms Affaneh said the bank had not been notified of the lawsuit. "Her contract allows her to do what she wants," she said.
Christians make up nearly 4 per cent of Jordan's 6 million people.