ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)– A Muslim group is calling for an apology from the St. Louis County Department of Justice Services. A young Muslim woman, arrested in January on a vehicle violation, was forced to remove her head scarf in front of men during a security check at the County Jail.
The head scarf, known as a hijab, is considered a requirement in public under the Islamic religion. “I don’t think they understood that when you take that off it is as if you are undressing the person in public,” said Faizan Syed, executive director of CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) in St. Louis.
The county jail prohibits all head gear because weapons or contraband could be concealed inside the head coverings. “Any type of religious belief we would respect, but we have to be concerned with balancing those religious beliefs with security,” said Herb Bernsen, director of Justice Services, Tuesday. Bernsen first became aware of the complaint on Friday.
Syed said the young woman, Basra Noor, 23, “felt extremely violated. Even at the present, she was emotionally distraught.”
A fourth grade teacher at an Islamic grade school in west St. Louis County, Sara Beg explained, ” It says in the Quran you are supposed to be covered. Only your face, your hands and your feet should be showing, and so only around your family members and your husband are you supposed to show your hair.”
Beg suggested the County Jail follow airport security guidelines and use a private room and female officers to check Muslim women. Syed agreed, “Take the hijab off. Look through it or give them another piece of head covering, and in which case it’s not that big of a deal.”
“We’re open for dialogue to see what can be worked out. What are other jails doing and what does the case law say?” said Bernsen. “I understand it to be a balancing act; is there a legitimate security need for your practices?”
Syed said there are nearly 100,000 Muslims living in the St. Louis area. He said CAIR would be glad to provide sensitivity training to police and jail officers. “This has happened in other cities,” he noted pointing to Minneapolis. “CAIR , we sat down with the county sheriff’s department and we came up with a solution that allowed for religious freedom as well as maintaining security, so I believe we can do the same thing here.”
Dual mug shots provide privacy in public by allowing the head scarf, and security for law enforcement with a non-scarf photo taken in private by women officers.
“I believe we can work out a solution that is beneficial for both parties,” Syed said.
For more information about CAIR, visit the group’s web site at www.CAIR.com