Attorney: Muslim Inmate Wants to Wear Head Scarf
Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minnesota Council on American-Islamic Relations is asking the Sheriff’s Department to grant religious accommodation to inmates who wear religious head coverings, after a Muslim woman convicted on multiple terror-related charges was forced to give up her head scarf while in custody.
Amina Farah Ali, 35, was convicted last week of funneling money to the terror group al-Shabab in Somalia. She’s awaiting sentencing on 13 terror-related counts, including one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
Her attorney, Dan Scott, said his client wants to wear her head scarf because, as part of her Muslim faith, she believes she must dress modestly in front of men who are not her relatives. That modest dress includes a head scarf, or hijab.
“She wants to wear her traditional garb. It’s really important to her,” Scott said. “She’s in jail, so what she wants doesn’t necessarily mean she’s entitled to it — but you do have a right to practice your religion.”
Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott said Ali cannot wear her head scarf in the jail facility for security reasons. Civilian clothes are not allowed in the jail, and an item such as a head scarf could hide contraband, be used as a weapon, or conceal an inmate’s identity.
“We provide the same (religious) accommodations to her as we do for all inmates,” Brott said. Among other things, she was given a Quran and has the right to pray. She also is allowed to have visits from religious counselors.
“She seems to be doing just fine within the facility,” Brott said, noting Ali has chosen to eat privately in her cell, but has left her cell for other reasons, including to use the laundry. The Sherburne County Jail houses federal detainees.
Scott said he is working with US marshals and with the sheriff to see if Ali can wear the scarf.
The Minnesota chapter of CAIR wrote a letter Thursday to Sherburne County, saying that when authorities asked Ali to remove her head scarf, it was like asking her to be naked in front of others. CAIR said the jail “can achieve both safety and religious accommodation by issuing approved headscarves as they do other pieces of clothing.”
Brott said this is the first time a head scarf has been an issue for a Sherburne County inmate.
John Schadl, a spokesman with the Minnesota Department of Corrections, said it has also never been an issue in state prisons. Data from the Corrections Department show that as of July 1, only four female prisoners listed themselves as Muslims — and not all Muslim women wear head scarves.
But head scarves and correctional facilities have clashed elsewhere.
Earlier this month, the US Supreme Court allowed a Muslim woman in Southern California to continue with her lawsuit against Orange County jailers who made her remove her head scarf in a courthouse holding cell.
By refusing to hear an appeal by Orange County, the Supreme Court let stand a federal appeals court decision that said holding cells are covered by a federal law protecting the religious practices of prisoners. It also ruled Souhair Khatib had the right to wear the scarf unless jailers could show it was a security risk.
Khatib’s attorney, Mark Rosenbaum of the American Civil Liberties Union, said settlement discussions are under way in that case.