Imane Boudlal made national headlines Wednesday when she challenged the famously--and extensively--strict Disney dress code, which included a ban on the hijab.
Speaking with the Weekly today, the 26-year-old Anaheim resident said, "we should just accept each other and respect each other."
Boudlal, who has worked as a hostess at the Storytellers Restaurant located inside Disney's Grand Californian Hotel for two and a half years, has been sent home four times without pay for refusing to remove her head covering.
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She shared her experience with us.
OC Weekly: When did you first start wearing your hijab [head scarf]?
Boudlal: It's been almost a year since I started wearing it. I used to wear it only when I'm in public but not at work. I started wearing it at work on August 15.
So, you didn't wear it in your Disney interview?
No, I was not familiar with this country and my rights, so I thought that's the way it had to be. After I started wearing it in public, I was asking myself what am I supposed to do at work. I have only been [in the US] about five years, so I didn't know what my rights were.
Why did you decide to start wearing your hijab at work now?
See, in Morocco, where I'm from, it is mandated by law. All the Muslim ladies had to wear the headscarf, but I wasn't ready for it. I knew that one day I would wear it, but I wasn't ready for it then. It just wasn't the time.
Then when I came here and I started going to the masjid and I saw ladies wearing the hijab, I just knew that I was ready to wear it. I had to accept myself before I ask people to accept me.
. . . And you just decided to show up one day at Disneyland wearing your hijab?
I knew I couldn't wear the hijab at work. By accident I saw the Disney policy that said there could be an accommodation for religious belief, so I sent HR a letter asking if I could wear it.
What did the request say?
It said that I'm a practicing Muslim lady and I do wear my hijab and that I'm requesting accommodations for my religious belief.
Had you told any of your managers or coworkers beforehand that you were considering wearing your hijab at work?
I told [my manager] how important my hijab was to me and how important it is for me to wear it in Ramadan. I turned in my request months ago, and I kept asking them how long it's going to take and telling them how important it is for me to wear it during Ramadan.
Do you know of any other employees who wear religious garments like yarmulkes? Do you think this same rule should apply for them?
I don't know about others. I just found out that I'm able to request for religious accommodations, so I requested it for myself. The policy is out there and everyone should request it--Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus--everyone.
Of course they should be able to wear any symbol as a symbol of their faith. Your faith is your faith--it is who you are. You can't just leave it in your house and come to work without it. I became a US citizen in June and I had to read and study the Constitution that gives us religious freedom. Now I know I have the right to practice my religion and I understand more about the freedoms of this country.
How did your co-workers react to seeing you in your hijab for the first time at work?
My co-workers are supporting me. Some of them have been there with me from the time of the request. They know I'm having a hard time and they told me the I should request to wear my hijab at work. And I was scared. How was I going to go to Disney with my hijab? But it was because of the support of my co-workers that I was able to do it.
What about the "guests" or customers that came to your restaurant?
The first day I showed up for work with my hijab, I was able to work for two and a half hours. It was really awesome! I felt comfortable. My confidence at work was great and I was doing a great job. I just felt this is who I am. I was committed to it.
And the customers were great. I met someone from Paris and we chatted a bit in French and he was like, "I remember you from three years ago." My hijab did not affect my work at all.
Disney officials have said that they "offered reasonable accommodations to allow [you] to work during [your] shifts, which [you] declined." What kind of accommodations did they offer?
The only accommodation they made was to work in the back. I didn't find that reasonable at all. I couldn't be with the customers. I've always been dealing with guests and I love it. I'm that kind of person that likes to talk to people from different countries. I enjoy coming into work every day because of that.
But really, why should Disney make accommodations for your hijab when accommodations aren't made for people with visible tattoos or painted fingernails?
I believe that nails and tattoos aren't as important as when it comes to religion. If the Constitution says I have the right to practice my religion, then why can't Disney?
They say it's not in their policy, but maybe it's time for them to change their policy so it fits the law.
Will you continue to go into work wearing your hijab?
Yes, I will. I'm committed to going into work every day wearing my hijab, until they provide me with an appropriate scarf from Disney that meets the requirements of my religion.
Will you quit working for Disney if they don't allow you to wear it?
I don't see any reason for them not to allow me to wear my hijab. It's my right. It doesn't affect my work in any way. The customers are happy.
I will be coming to Disney every day, wearing my hijab. My major concern is to be true to who I am. I'm going to fight for it and I'm going to take the risk. Either they're going to tell me go ahead and wear your hijab or provide me with one for me to wear.
Any last comments?
I just want to be accepted. I just want to accept people and for them to accept me. You should be allowed to show up to Disney wearing a cross or a yarmulke. Why do we have to go through this process? We should just accept each other and respect each other.
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