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Woman forced to remove hijab for booking photo wins $120K in settlement

Aida Shyef Al-Kadi received $120,000 to settle her lawsuit after deputies allegedly forced her to strip and remove her hijab in front of male officers, the Guardian reported.

The Minnesota Muslim woman missed a court hearing for a traffic offense because she took her daughter to the hospital, according to the Star Tribune.

After she turned herself in, she said deputies ordered her to remove her hijab and abaya — a long, loose garment — in front of male jailers. Upon her refusal, Al-Kadi, 57, claimed officers yanked her into a holding cell and forced her to remove her clothing.

She said she only initially agreed to remove her headscarf after officers told her the booking photo wouldn’t be released to the public. But the Huffington Post reported that the photo became public record and available upon request, and Al-Kadi saw her photo on a third-party website months later.

Al-Kadi called the August 2013 incident at the Ramsey County jail “one of the most humiliating and harmful experiences of her life.”

She alleged the event violated her constitutional and religious rights, and approached the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for help. CAIR attorneys filed discrimination charges through the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which were deemed unfounded, according to the Star Tribune. But Al-Kadi took matters into her own hands, studying at the Ramsey County Law Library to file a federal lawsuit pro se — on her own behalf.

Al-Kadi made it clear that her case was about “looking forward and standing up not only for herself, but for the broader Muslim community,” Caitlinrose Fisher, one of the attorneys who represented Al-Kadi, said. “Standing up for the broader Muslim community is precisely what Ms. Al-Kadi did.”

Fisher noted that the case “had the potential to strengthen the protections for detained women that are Muslim across Ramsey County, Minnesota and the United States.“

Alongside the $120,000, the settlement also requires the jail to have specific rules in treating inmates with religious headwear when taking booking photos, and the Sheriff’s Office to train its corrections officers on policies concerning inmates’ religious accommodations. The county further agreed to destroy all hard copies and electronic versions of Al-Kadi’s booking photo.

County Board Chairman Jim McDonough told the Star Tribune that the terms were “fair and in the best interests of our citizens.”

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of CAIR in Minnesota, applauded Al-Kadi’s six years of courage and determination.

“[She] has fought not only for herself, but for Muslim women to be dignified and treated with respect when they encounter law enforcement,” he said.

The sweeping changes for how female Muslim inmates are treated in Minnesota are exactly what Al-Kadi had hoped for.

“I knew that I did not want any other Muslim woman to experience what I did,” she said.

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