Muslim woman forced to leave US mall over headscarf

A Muslim woman says her civil rights were violated when a security guard forced her to leave a shopping mall when she did not accept to take her religious headscarf off.

Muslim woman forced to leave US mall over headscarf

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington, D.C.-based Muslim civil liberties group, made the incident public on Friday. The group has asked the FBI and Louisiana officials to investigate the Feb. 22 incident. The woman and her family, U.S. citizens of Palestinian heritage, are considering legal action.

The incident involves Muntaha Sarsour, 54, and her daughter-in-law, Sajedeh Judeh, 23. The two women had just bought Chick-Fil-A take-out at the mall food court when an Oakwood Shopping Center security guard allegedly stopped Sarsour and told her to remove her headscarf. The mall is in Gretna, a culturally diverse suburb of New Orleans.

"He told her she had two options: Either she take off her headscarf or leave the mall," said Judeh, speaking on behalf of her mother-in-law, who does not speak English well.

Judeh said she then confronted the guard and told him that a Muslim in a headscarf "shouldn't be new to you."

When the guard did not answer, Judeh said, "I then told him that was the most ignorant thing I had heard and he said the way I was acting ignorant."

The mall's senior general manager, Lynn Walters, said steps are being made to make sure "this type of occurrence never happens again."

"That action goes against everything we believe in and who we are," Walters said. The mall is run by General Growth Properties Inc., one of the nation's largest shopping mall developers.

The FBI is looking into the incident, said FBI spokeswoman Sheila Thorne.

The security guard was hired and trained by AlliedBarton Security Services, a national powerhouse in the private security business, Walters said.

"Once our personnel were told that the woman's head covering was part of her religious attire, our officers apologized for the misunderstanding and took no further action," said Alan L. Stein, v ice president of AlliedBarton Security Services, in a statement issued late Friday.

Ibrahim Hooper, a Council on American-Islamic Relations spokesman, said the case opened unprecedented legal questions about hijabs, Muslim woman's head covering.

In the past, he said, Muslim women have challenged orders to remove their hijabs by employers and upon being photographed for driver's licenses.

"This is the first time I've seen something this egregious," Hooper said. "This was not only humiliating, there may have been criminal, civil rights violations in this incident."

After the guard stopped Sarsour, he escorted she and Judeh -- against their protests -- through the mall and called for backup, Judeh said.

"Two other security guards approached, one may have been the head of security," Judeh said. After learning what had transpired, the apparent-supervisor "told the other guy you can't do that," Judeh said.

But, she added, the supervisor "didn't do much. He kind of said, 'I'm sorry."'

"The customer was not escorted from the mall, but rather apparently chose to leave on her own accord," Stein said in the security company's statement. "Our company's training includes sensitivity training for our officers, and we do not condone actions that offend people for their religious beliefs."

Mazin Sarsour, the son and wife of the women, said the incident was embarrassing and inexcusable.

"I've been going there (to the mall) all my life and it's common to see Middle-Eastern women in headscarves. You go there on a Saturday afternoon, it's normal," Mazin Sarsour said. "It's really unbelievable."

Agencies

Last Mod: 02 Mart 2008, 17:38
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