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Q&A: Disney intern Noor Abdallah on hijab and work

Noor Abdallah in her Disney uniform
Noor Abdallah in her Disney uniform
Photo courtesy of CAIR-LA

The Muslim intern who fought Disney over her hijab, and won, is a second-generation University of Illinois senior, a psychology major and a native of the Chicago suburbs who “grew up on Disney movies.”

Noor Abdallah, 22, took the company to task this summer after arriving in Anaheim to begin an internship as a vacation planner. Upon arriving, she was informed that because she wears the traditional Islamic head scarf, known as hijab, she must take a job with less guest interaction. She was offered a stockroom job while a customized uniform was made, a wait that would take about five months.

Abdallah sought assistance from the Council on American-Islamic Relations after learning about Iman Boudial, a Moroccan immigrant and Disney worker who filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the company last month on similar grounds. Disney relented, allowing Abdallah to work in the vacation planner job. She has been working in hijab since earlier this month, wearing a blue head scarf with a beret-style hat.

Raised in Mundelein, Ill. northwest of Chicago, Abdallah is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants. Her father attended high school in the United States; her mother arrived in her late teens. She talks about her career, her family, her love of things Disney, and her decision to fight for the right to wear hijab at work.

M-A: You moved across the country to take this internship. What appealed to you about the job, and what was it like when you learned it might not work out as planned because you wear hijab?

Abdallah: I grew up on Disney movies. Ariel was my favorite princess. I had Disney everything – bedsheets, drapes, everything, you name it. I was very excited to start the internship here. I was getting my housing assignment and I was excited along with everybody else. So I was a little heartbroken. It shattered it a little for me.

M-A: You were offered a stockroom job, but you argued to keep the vacation planner job you were hired to do. What made you decide to fight for it?

Abdallah: I’m a U.S. citizen, I was born here, I grew up here. It really hurt to have someone tell me that "actually, you don't belong." That was a little hard for me to take. America is my home.

I had heard about Iman (Boudial)’s case. It kind of gave me some kind of guidance. I contacted CAIR after hearing about Iman’s case. This was not something I had gone through before.

M-A: Speaking of that case, do you think there should there be an official Disney policy allowing female Muslim employees to wear hijab?

Abdallah: I definitely do. I think this is a good first step that we have reached today, but it has been a very difficult month. I didn’t even get to go through orientation with the other college interns. It was a lot of back and forth. It was a little harsh, at least the process. It was very emotionally draining. So I would really hope that we could figure out some sort of policy change so that people in the future don’t have to go through this. I am not the first person, and I hope I am the last.

Disney is very good about diversity, and I hope they can embrace this whole other element.

M-A: So now that you are working in the internship you planned on, what are your career goals?

Abdallah: I hope to go into human resources. I was planning to come here for the college program and work here six months, then go back to Chicago and finish my last class to get my degree, then reapply for the professional internship with human resources at Disney. I’m also looking into ABC, which is owned by Disney.

I still plan to do this. My father and my mother have been very supportive. My father told me, “You set your goals to do something. This is just a small bump.”