Muslim man wins fez court battle

Cape Town, South Africa - When customer Moosa Valli walked into a Brackenfell, Cape Town, timber firm, he was greeted with a demand that he remove his fez.

Valli, a Muslim, was further taken aback when the offending employee said wearing the traditional headgear in the shop was like a Christian wearing a pork chop around his neck in a Muslim area.

Now Woodways Timber Suppliers has been found guilty of discrimination and been ordered by the Cape Town Equality Court to apologise to Valli, 35, of Ottery, and pay damages.

Valli, who felt he had been discriminated against on the grounds of religion, took Woodways to court and also took the matter up with the Human Rights Commission.

Woodways argued in the Equality Court that because it was a Christian company, removing the fez would be a mark of mutual respect.

The court ordered Woodways to provide an unconditional written apology within 14 days, and pay Valli R2 000 in damages.

The firm will also have to pay his legal fees and magistrate Johan Oosthuizen made an order restraining it from discriminating against Muslims in future.

Oosthuizen said that although the staff of Woodways had the right to declare their religious beliefs to any customer who held opposing beliefs, this did not entitle them to require the customer to modify his own behaviour in accordance with their beliefs.

Given the huge diversity of religions in South Africa, it would not be fair for a commercial enterprise that was open to the public to discriminate among its customers on the grounds of religion, Oosthuizen ruled.

Pierre Burger, Valli's attorney, said his client's dignity had been impaired by the request to remove his fez, and that he felt insulted and belittled.

Commenting on the ruling, Valli said he was happy with the court outcome.

"I felt unfairly discriminated against ... an apology was all I wanted and I feel that I finally got what I wanted," he said.