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Norway hairdresser on trial for refusing client in hijab

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OSLO: A hairdresser went on trial in Norway Thursday for refusing a Muslim client wearing a hijab, in the first case in the country to go to court over the Islamic head covering.

Merete Hodne risks up to six months in prison for religious discrimination for turning Malika Bayan away from her hair salon in Bryne, a small town in southwestern Norway, in October last year.

According to the charge sheet, Hodne told Bayan “she would have to find someplace else because she didn’t accept (clients) like her.”

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The 47-year-old hairdresser told the court she saw the hijab as a political symbol representing an ideology that frightens her, rather than as a religious symbol.

“I see it as a totalitarian symbol. When I see a hijab, I don’t think of religion, but of totalitarian ideologies and regimes,” she told the judges, cited by daily Verdens Gang. “A hijab is not religious, it’s political,” she added.

Described by Norwegian media as a former activist in Islamophobic movements such as Pegida, Hodne recently told TV2 news channel that the headscarf was a symbol of “Islamic ideology” — which she called “evil” — just like “the swastika is that of Nazism”.

She said that accepting a woman in hijab as a client would have meant she would have had to turn away male customers, since the woman would not have been able to expose her hair with men present.

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The hairdresser refused to pay a fine of 8,000 kroner (870 euros, $980) for religious discrimination, and the case therefore went before the Jaeren district court on Thursday.

While Hodne acknowledged that she could have turned Bayan, 24, away more courteously, she denied the charge of religious discrimination.

“I have known racism and discrimination before this, little looks and things like that, but I’ve never had it thrown in my face so clearly,” Bayan told the court, quoted by news agency NTB.

“It hurt me in several ways. I felt small, stupid, not integrated, in pain. I couldn’t understand why a scarf on my head could provoke this,” she said.

Police asked the court to raise the fine to 9,600 kroner, and, failing payment of the fine, impose a jail sentence of 19 days. The verdict is due on Monday.

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