Muslim Headscarf Incident Highlights Business Imperative

It may have looked like a headscarf to him, but when a Wayne County Circuit Judge told the defendant to remove it he was asking her to break with the teachings of her Muslim faith. The judge later claimed that had he known she was wearing it for religious reasons he would have allowed her to keep it on.

This brings two important business points to the discussion table. First, if ignorance is not an excuse. Second, if the “hat” rule can be overridden for religious reasons, why have the rule at all?

Ignorance of cultural practices

It is interesting that a judge would claim ignorance as justification for his actions. Ignorance of the law has never been justification for breaking it. In the business world, just as in most courts, ignorance is never a justification.

The population of metropolitan Detroit, like most other cities in North America, is becoming more ethnically diverse. This means that the customer base is also becoming more diverse. If you target your marketing, product mix, service lineup, store layout, staffing, or any number of other business elements toward a generic population you limit your ability to grow. Being inclusive to all groups is extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Most businesses will find it advantageous to select three or four key demographics and tailor their offerings to them. To be successful it is critical they learn as much as possible about the demographic they seek to serve. Learn their likes, customs, dislikes, and needs before making the same mistake made in this court.

Why have a “hat” rule if exceptions are made

Every business has rules. They are essential for safety and security. However sometimes we have rules that are no longer necessary or that are insulting to various people.

Proper etiquette once dictated that men would not wear hats inside a building. Today this is somewhat outdated. The difference is that after no longer worn as a fashionable accessory to a nice suit. Instead after commonly worn to cover balding heads, ill-kept hair, or for religious reasons.

The headscarf, known as a hijab, is used for several reasons including a showing of faithfulness to Allah and keeping modesty in public. Other religions, including Judaism and Catholicism have similar practices for at least some of the religions members. But it is not a religious issue — it is an issue about head coverings.

If a hat jeopardizes the safety or security of the courtroom it is as justifiable as it would be in any business establishment. Take for example finger rings in many factories. They increase the likelihood of an amputation should the finger get caught in the equipment. For safety, there are no exceptions. If exceptions could be made, the rule would be invalidated across the board.


Because the world continues to migrate and cultures integrate it is more important than ever for business owners, salespeople, and entrepreneurs to understand the cultures of their community. Anything less will lead to lost revenue and embarrassment.