Everyone practices their own beliefs, whether or not they’re religiously affiliated.
When trying to recognize someone else’s practices, it can be easy to make a mistake, pointed out the “Am I the A**hole?” (AITA) subReddit.
When Redditor teachertripup observed his female student’s head covering slipping out of place, he decided it was best to involve a female teacher, since he was not related to his student.
But when his colleague didn’t see the importance of the situation, the Original Poster (OP) wondered if he overstepped.
He asked the sub:
“AITA for deferring an issue with a female Muslim student to a female colleague?”
The OP was pleased to see the area he lived in becoming more diverse.
“My wife and I (36 Male) moved to our area seven years ago for my wife to pursue a job opportunity where the population happened to be exclusively white.”
“In the last couple of years or so, we’ve had an increase in the non-white population, including the first Muslim students I’ve had since before moving here.”
“I grew up in an ethnically diverse area, so not being surrounded by multicultural people and restaurants has been an adjustment.”
The OP recently had two female Muslim students in his science class.
“I teach high school science, and my two Muslim students are cousins I’ll call Amira and Nadia (fake names).”
“I’m not well versed in religion, since my area of expertise is sciences, but I’d like to think I have some basic knowledge of major religions.”
“Today, Amira was out sick, so it was just Nadia in my class.”
“The kids were working on a worksheet while I was trying to get grading wrapped up and submitted, and when I looked up, I realized Nadia’s head covering had shifted, and the hair on her forehead was exposed.”
“I panicked and looked away as soon as I realized.”
All the OP could think to do was to involve a female colleague.
“I would have asked Amira to take Nadia into the office between my classroom and my female colleague’s next door to fix it.”
“But without Amira there, I ended up ducking into my colleague’s classroom and disrupting her class (I waited until she acknowledged my presence and then waved her over to speak to her quietly).”
“I asked her to please bring Nadia into the office to fix her head covering. I would keep an eye on her class.”
“My colleague, Mrs. Smith, asked why I couldn’t do it, and I said, ‘Because I’m an unrelated man.'”
“She made a weird face at me but eventually said, ‘Fine,’ and went to get Nadia. When she came back, she was not at all polite when she said, ‘It’s fixed.'”
“I thanked her and tried to brush off her attitude, and I asked Nadia to stay back a moment after class, just long enough to apologize if I embarrassed her. She said it was fine and left.”
The OP was surprised by what happened next.
“I got home at 3:30, but at 6 PM, I got a call from my principal, Mrs. Waters, outside of working hours, telling me that Mrs. Smith had complained about my unprofessional conduct regarding Nadia.”
“She said that I am expected to attend a meeting on Monday with her, Mrs. Smith, Nadia, and her parents to discuss what should be done about my actions.”
“I asked what I had done wrong; she refused to elaborate beyond ‘unprofessional conduct.'”
“I told her I expected my in-building union representative to be present at the meeting, or I would not go, and she said she would email our building rep.”
“I feel ambushed. I don’t know even know what I did wrong, and I’m not going to lie, I’m really upset and anxious right now.”
Fellow Redditors weighed in:
- NTA: Not the A**hole
- YTA: You’re the A**hole
- ESH: Everybody Sucks Here
- NAH: No A**holes Here
Some tried to reassure the OP that he had handled the situation well.
“NTA, you were being considerate and meant well.”
“The only person who can tell you if you overreacted is Nadia.”
“I definitely would say that the other teacher overreacted.”
“I’d suggest talking to your union rep asap, they may be able to ease your anxiety.” – Jezabel8708
“OP, can you frame it for yourself this way?”
“You didn’t know what to do. You reacted from a place of panic. You dragged in another teacher who was obviously annoyed to be involved.”
“You stated that you did it not to acknowledge it with Nadia or embarrass her in case it wasn’t appropriate to talk to her about it and then you walked up to her to talk to her about it. Any one of these things might or might not be the problem. Nadia’s parents will help her let you know what it was.”
“It’s pretty clear you had no idea what you should have done or how, and it’s pretty clear you reacted from a place of fear and emotion. You’ve got a meeting Monday to learn what a professional response would be next time.”
“I would just try to go in with minimal defensiveness, and be prepared to listen, apologize, and learn. If you say it was an honest mistake, own it, and commit to doing it differently next time it’s unlikely to be more than one sh*tty half hour.” – monstrousinsect
“In Islam, Hijabi women are not to uncover their hair around unrelated men. That OP even knew that shows that he has a great deal of respect for other faiths.”
“It could have been a serious crisis of faith for her, as well as a massive embarrassment if he had said anything to her.”
“As someone who has spent a great deal of time in a Hijab, I think he did everything that could have been expected from a man of another religion in an emergency moment.” – ashestorosesxx
“NTA, OP. I think you handled it the best you could in the situation. The other teacher seems to have massively overreacted to your, seemingly, polite request for help.”
“Maybe the other teacher doesn’t know the rules regarding the hijab, and that’s why she overreacted and just thought you were being a bother for a stupid reason.”
“I will say, the Muslim woman I know wears a tight under covering under the hijab, so mistakes like this are lessened but, I’m assuming that’s a comfort thing and maybe this girl doesn’t like being that confined. Idk but NTA OP.” – bookworm1421
“NTA. As a hijabi myself, I’d much prefer if a female told me that my hair was showing over a male. He was being respectful and respected her religion.”
“He could’ve maybe told another female student to inform Nadia since hijabs can be fixed in the bathroom, but I think he did the best he could given the situation.” – CarelessPath1689
Others sided with the OP but urged him to also confirm with the student what she preferred.
“The only thing that he could do in the future (after asking in the next meeting) is ask how should he act out of respect in this type of situation, maybe just asking another female classmate or whatever. But he was really respectful and cautious even from his ‘ignorance’ or ‘overreaction.'” – CraftySense1338
“I faced a similar situation when working with a Muslim coworker. She was a bagger, and I was the cashier.”
“I scan some pork, and I didn’t know to what kind of extent she follow her religion if she is able to touch pork. I put them aside and bag them without causing a ruckus. After finishing with the customer, I talk to my coworker if she was able to touch pork. She said yes.”
“I would have done the same thing but talk to her if I made her uncomfortable.” – Fernandezo2299
“I was at Target recently, and a young lady with a hijab was scanning at the register. A customer ahead of me had a case of White Claw, and I saw the young lady get a little flustered, and I happily came around and offered to scan and move it for her.”
“The following customer had a pork lasagna. Again, I offered to scan for her. She was so grateful and kind. More grateful than she needed to be for such a small and convenient gesture on my part.”
“Extending thoughtfulness and understanding for others’ beliefs that we may not share, takes so little time. Op is NTA.” – Strict_Bar_4915
“Given the other teacher willingly went, rather than telling the OP to deal with it himself, and only acted coldly after assisting Nadia I have to wonder if Nadia expressed some upset, discomfort, or confusion to that other teacher which is why it has been escalated? It’s really unlikely she helped Nadia without talking about what was happening.”
“The thing is OP is not going to know if his actions had a negative effect on Nadia until the meeting, and only really Nadia can make a judgment on how she felt impacted.”
“It’s also worth noting Nadia may have different views from her parents, who may take these things more or less seriously depending on a huge range of factors, including if Nadia has previous bad experiences around wearing her hijab in a predominantly white area, which again we can’t know.” – Necessary-Air-9509
“Even if Nadia wasn’t concerned, OP still has to consider what her parents might think of such interactions as well. OP would be in just as much trouble if they’d done something the student was completely comfortable with but that her parents were deeply unhappy about and then they’d contacted the principal citing religious intolerance, etc.”
“Far wiser to err on the side of caution in the initial incident (which OP did), and then ask the student and parents what their preferred action would be in the future if anything like that happened again.”
“Since it was the other teacher that complained, I’m guessing that Nadia and her parents didn’t have a problem with what happened (or at least not a big enough problem to contact the school that afternoon).”
“Based on what was described here, I think OP should do some homework on common-place knowledge around Muslim customs regarding head coverings and take along a basic ‘info packet’ to counter what is probably either complete ignorance or outright religious animosity on the part of the other teacher.” – KahurangiNZ
The subReddit understood why the OP was nervous about the follow-up meeting, but they also believed that the OP had done the best he could do with the information he had.
The next best thing he could do in the future is to speak to his students about what they needed and how they’d be comfortable with him handling a situation like this.