CAIR asks Sherburne County sheriff to allow woman’s headscarf in jail

A civil rights group Thursday asked a sheriff to accommodate a Muslim woman’s religious beliefs and let her cover her head with a scarf.

Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott said that he’d meet with the group, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, but that he wasn’t changing the policy barring female Muslim prisoners from wearing hijabs. “We do not intend to change our policy on this,” Brott said. “We believe it is a safety and security issue. We don’t allow personal clothing in the facility.”

The state chapter of CAIR sent a letter to the sheriff after the Pioneer Press reported Thursday that Amina Farah Ali refused to leave her cell because she’s not allowed to wear her hijab. Ali, 35, a naturalized U.S. citizen who lived in Rochester, Minn., was jailed after she was convicted in federal court last week of sending money to al-Shabaab, a group in her homeland of Somalia that the U.S. government considers a terrorist organization.

When Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis sent Ali to jail to await sentencing, he told her that whatever facility she would be going to “will be aware of any customs that have to be met because of your religion.”

He didn’t spell those out, though, and when Ali got to the Sherburne County Jail in Elk River, she wasn’t allowed to keep her hijab. Ali’s attorney, Dan Scott, said the woman believes her religion requires her to keep her head covered in public.

The Minnesota chapter of CAIR said Ali’s belief is “a protected exercise of her religion.” Munazza Humayun, the group’s civil rights coordinator, said the organization believes religious needs can be accommodated without jeopardizing safety in the jail. “We can understand that there might be practical reasons for not wanting to accommodate this, but there’s been no attempt to come to a compromise to allow her to wear a headscarf,” said Humayun.

Pioneer Press, 27 October 2011