Muslim girl ‘forced to remove hijab’ before flight, lawsuit says

‘Taking off my hijab isn’t the same as taking off any other article of clothing; it’s like taking off a limb’

Chiara Giordano
Tuesday 24 September 2019 15:05
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Still image from KPIX-TV video of Fatima Abdelrahman, 13, who was forced to remove her hijab in public before boarding a flight from San Francisco to Toronto, 1 August 2019.
Still image from KPIX-TV video of Fatima Abdelrahman, 13, who was forced to remove her hijab in public before boarding a flight from San Francisco to Toronto, 1 August 2019.

A Muslim girl who plays for the US national squash team was forced to remove her hijab in public before boarding a flight, a lawsuit claims.

Fatima Abdelrahman, who was 12 at the time, was allegedly made to remove the head covering by Air Canada workers at San Francisco International Airport – despite having already been through security.

The teenager, now 13, claims she was told to take off the hijab, which she wears for religious reasons, before boarding a flight to Toronto because she was not wearing one in her passport photo.

In a letter sent to Air Canada, the Council on American-Islamic Relations claimed Ms Abdelrahman asked if she could remove the headscarf in a private screening with female workers.

However, the airline refused and she was made to remove the hijab in a tunnel in front of other passengers and her teammates, it added.

Ms Abdelrahman told KTVU: “It hurt. It felt like I was alienated from my teammates. They all passed.

“I was scared. I was worried. I didn’t know what was going to happen.

“Taking off my hijab isn’t the same as taking off any other article of clothing; it’s like taking off a limb. It’s part of me. It’s part of who I am.”

The squash player’s older sister Sabreen Abdelrahman tweeted the airline after the incident on 1 August, saying: “Pls explain why you pulled aside my 12yr old sister for flight 758 making her take off her hijab at the gate? After she already passed security?

“Thx for ruining her experience as the first U.S. National Team Squash player in Hijab + her first time traveling alone.”

Democratic Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar also tweeted about the incident to her 1.6 million followers, saying: “This is unacceptable! Can’t imagine how traumatic this must be for her and her parents. In solidarity little sis.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations wrote to the airline, claiming that its employees had violated federal and state laws by insisting Ms Abdelrahman needed to remove her head covering.

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It added: “This experience not only went against [her] reasonable request to be able to adhere to her religious beliefs but also left her feeling angry and humiliated.”

The letter also seeks monetary damages, a formal written apology, and for the employees involved to be reprimanded.

In response to Ms Abdelrahman’s tweet, Air Canada said: “Hello Sabreen, we are truly sorry to hear about this situation and we certainly understand your concerns.”

The Independent has contacted Air Canada for a comment.

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