‘Hijab-friendly’ policy urged in U.S. prisons

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The Council on American-Islamic Relations is aiming for a uniform “hijab-friendly” policy to allow Muslim women to keep their head cover during detention and photos in all local and federal U.S. prisons.

“I’m working on several pending cases in different states... and I’m in touch with an attorney for the Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights,” Nadhira al-Khalili, legal counsel for CAIR, told Al Arabiya.


Novi recently became the first locality in Michigan to officially permit Muslim women to don their head cover during detention and photos at the local prison.

“There are other accommodations in other localities in Michigan for Muslim females to keep their hijab during detainment. However, Novi is the first locality in Michigan that has made it an official policy,” Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR’s Michigan chapter, told Al Arabiya.

“If hijab is allowed in the military, and U.S. driving licenses permit women IDs with hijab, then the same logic can be applied,” Walid said. “Hijab doesn’t impede the identity of women.”

Women’s reactions

While some women take off their scarves, even in the presence of males, for fear of reprisals by sheriff deputies, others have resisted.

In North Carolina, “a woman was arrested for making a telephone threat to a family member she was quarrelling with. Upon arrest and booking, she was told to remove her scarf. She told the sheriffs that it was her right to wear the scarf, and she refused to take it off,” Khalili said.

However, she “was held down on the floor by two male deputy sheriffs, and a female removed the scarf. She wasn’t given her scarf back until she left the jail. She had to appear in front of a judge uncovered. She was admitted to a hospital because of the trauma.”

Having a uniform policy covering about 3,000 sheriff’s departments across the United States is an ambitious project.

“The courts generally don’t want to intervene in the professional judgment of a sheriff. Some courts have ruled that when security is a concern, safety should override a religious practice. Other courts have ruled in favor of Muslim women who want to wear hijab,” said Khalili.

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