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Muslim Woman Sues Detroit, Michigan DoC for Forcing Her to Remove Hijab in Detention Center Photos

— October 7, 2020

Zainab Chabban says Detroit Detention Center staff offered her a difficult choice: to remove her hijab for mugshots, or spend the night on the booking room floor without any bedding.

A Muslim woman is suing Detroit and the Michigan Department of Corrections after she was allegedly forced to remove her hijab for intake photos at the city’s main detention center.

According to The Detroit News, the lawsuit was filed by Zainab Chabban earlier this week in federal court. The 36-year old woman is being represented by the Council on Islamic American Relations Michigan Legal Fund.

However, as the News notes, the Detroit Detention Center—located at 17601 Mound—is run by the state Department of Corrections, rather than the City of Detroit.

For that reason, Detroit’s attorneys have contested the city’s inclusion in the lawsuit.

“Neither the city of Detroit nor the Detroit Police Department take photographs of people entering the Detroit Detention Center,” Lawrence Garcia, corporation counsel for Detroit, said in a statement. “The city does not belong in this lawsuit and we will ask to be dismissed from it.”

Nevertheless, the Detroit News purports to have passed the question of liability along to Corrections—and was told that the city’s police department would have taken Chabban’s mugshots.

Chabban, adds, was arrested in April 2019.

Stock image of an Indonesian woman wearing hijab. Islamic scholars tend to agree that men and women alike must clothe themselves modestly. However, there are many sectarian and socio-cultural differences in what constitutes proper hijab. Image via Pixabay. Public domain.

Several weeks prior, she was involved in a domestic dispute with her ex-husband regarding child custody. The dispute turned physical, ending after Chabban and her ex-husband fell off a porch.

“He kept pushing me,” she said. “I fell off the edge of the porch. I went like, ‘Whoa.’ And I grabbed his arms. We both fell off the side of the porch. I hit my head and I hit my back.”

Chabban and her ex-husband called the police on one another, but law enforcement did not respond to either call.

Chabban later filed for a restraining order against her ex.

Not long after, though, Chabban was arrested for her role in the disturbance.

“I ended up being charged with domestic violence, felony assault, malicious destruction of building,” Chabban said, adding that her case went to trial and she was found not guilty.

One way or another, Chabban suggested her experiencing at the Detroit Detention Center was humiliating. Shortly after intake, she claims that male staff members forced her to remove her hijab in front of them.

Hijab, sometimes referred to simply as a “headscarf,” is a form of modest covering widely considered mandatory for Muslim women. While definitions of what constitutes “proper” hijab vary between and across geo-cultural spaces, the garment is widely embraced by Muslim women around the world. Women are not typically supposed to remove their hijab around men who are not close family members.

“When I went to the prison cell, they asked me to remove my scarf,” Chabban said. “I told them, ‘This is how you will identify me. With this scarf.’”

Although Chabban tried to explain to officers that hijab is an integral aspect of her religious identity, they allegedly refused to listen—and may have even went so far as to remove it themselves.

The Detroit News, offering a differently worded but more detailed narrative, said officers gave Chabban a choice: she could either remove her hijab and be photographed, or sleep on the floor of the booking room without bedding.

“I felt it was really something that hurt me,” she said. “It mentally affected me.”

As has reported numerous times before, what happened to Chabban is not an isolated incident—even this year, there have been several lawsuits filed against police departments across the country over the exact same issue.

“It keeps happening,” Chabban said, “and they’re not understanding that there are consequences.

“You don’t just violate a person and then it just goes away into thin air,” she added. “You have to address these issues. You have to bring them to light. This is something that is real. Islam is here. Islam is growing. Islam is here, it’s not going anywhere. They have to understand that there are laws, and why we do things.”

Amy Doukoure, the CAIR-MI attorney representing Chabban in the suit, said her client has a legal, constitutional right to refuse to remove her hijab—even if the Michigan Department of Corrections has a different policy.

“It’s a very strict standard, it’s a very high burden that the government has to prove in order to infringe on your religious rights,” Dokoure said. “That was afforded to us by the U.S. Constitution, which trumps Michigan Department of Corrections policy every time.”

Doukoure further said that, for Muslim women who choose to wear hijab, being forced to remove their head covering is akin to being stripped naked.

“It’s not hyperbolic to say that taking a woman’s headscarf off or parading her around in front of men, and then making her wear that picture on her wrist and show it off to everybody that she passes is akin to making somebody strip naked, take a picture and then wear that picture around in front of strangers,” Doukoure said.

The Council on Islamic American Relations is seeking damages for Chabban, as well as a revised policy that would prohibit corrections officers from requesting that Muslim women remove their hijab for mugshots.


Hijab removal for mugshot prompts federal lawsuit against Detroit city jail, MDOC

Lawsuit: Detroit police forced Muslim woman to remove hijab during booking photo

Muslim woman sues city of Detroit, MDOC for being made to remove headscarf in booking photo

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