Published: 00:00 GMT Daylight Time - Wednesday 18 October 2006
Cross defined as non-essential to Christian faith
Country/Region: UNITED KINGDOM
A Christian employee of British Airways was sent home without pay for refusing to cover up or remove a small cross which she wore on a chain around her neck.
Nadia Eweida, a committed Christian, has worked for BA for seven years and has an unblemished employee record. On 20th September 2006 her manager noticed that the cross she wears on a chain around her neck was visible. In accordance with BA Uniform Wearer Standards she was asked to either remove the cross or cover it with her cravat. When Miss Eweida refused she was given the choice of being sent home suspended on full pay or taking unpaid leave.
Miss Eweida claims that BA's uniform policy is discriminatory against Christians. The policy states that all jewellery and religious symbols can be worn, but concealed. However it makes exceptions for the Muslim hijab and Sikh turbans and bangles, which it says are an essential part of the respective religious beliefs, and impractical to conceal.
A main point of contention appears to be what constitutes an essential part of a religious faith. Miss Eweida was asked in her formal grievance meeting if she agreed that there is nothing in the Bible which requires a Christian to wear the cross visibly. British Airways ruled that the wearing or displaying of the cross is not an essential part of Christianity. However this definition is not applied consistently across other faiths. The wearing of the hijab is an area of contention amongst Muslims who disagree on whether it is obligatory to wear it. A verse in the Qur'an which talks about women covering up is interpreted by some Muslim women as a command to wear the hijab, though the garment itself is not specifically mentioned.
In the Christian faith the cross is a symbol of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, God incarnate, and his resurrection, to take away the sins of the world, that is, a symbol of the most central doctrines of Christianity. Many Christians wear the cross in order to publicly declare their faith. During the grievance hearing Miss Eweida quoted "Jesus said if you deny me on earth I will deny you before my Father in heaven". Miss Eweida is of Anglo-Egyptian roots, and in her culture the cross is deeply important. Many Egyptian Christians will tattoo the cross on to their wrists, even though this will bring them increased persecution, as it defines them as a Christian. To Miss Eweida displaying her cross is as essentially part of her faith as the hijab and turban are to Muslims and Sikhs.
International director of Barnabas Fund, Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, said "Nadia has been a committed supporter of Barnabas Fund for many years, giving her support to persecuted Christians. Now she herself is suffering discrimination for her faith, and Barnabas Fund is committed to supporting her through this ordeal. Discrimination against Christians is commonplace in Muslim-majority contexts, such as Egypt where Nadia's family roots are. It is part of Barnabas Fund's work to make known cases of anti-Christian injustice around the world, and where possible to assist. Now we see the same thing increasingly happening within the UK. Again, we want to make it known and to support this courageous Christian woman in her desire to show her faith by means of a visible symbol â€“ the cross, which is central to the Christian faith. Her Sikh and Muslim colleagues at BA can show their faith publicly in what they wear, but Nadia and other Christians cannot. All we are asking for is a level playing field for all faiths."
Those who persecute Christians are very aware of the significance of the cross as symbolising the Christian faith. They are acutely aware of its importance to Christians, and visible depictions of the cross are a focus of destructive attacks. On 13th September a teenage Christian girl in Pakistan was beaten by her Muslim teachers for refusing to remove a cross. Kiran Shahzadi (15) was rebuked for wearing the cross and ordered to remove it from her neck. She refused, saying the "cross is our Christian religious symbol so I cannot remove it." Her teacher began beating Kiran, then took her to the headteacher who also mistreated her. The cross was pulled from her neck and thrown in the rubbish bin. Kiran was then made to stand in the scorching sun for several hours without water until she fainted.
1. Please pray for Nadia as she courageously stands up for her faith and her right to express it. Pray that she will respond with grace and with strength, to be "as wise as a snake and as innocent as a dove" (Matthew 10:16).
2. Pray that the media interest in this story will highlight the inequality and injustice which many Christians face, and which appears to be spreading to the UK.
3. Pray for Kiran that she will not be discouraged or afraid, for the Lord our God is with her.