Ramsey County settles lawsuit over hijab removal

A woman hijab hugs another woman.
Aida Al-Kadi, right, of St. Louis Park, got a hug from Asma Mohammed, advocacy director at Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment, after a press conference at CAIR-MN headquarters in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Leila Navidi | Star Tribune via AP

Updated: 4:19 p.m.

A woman who was forced to remove her hijab as she was booked into the Ramsey County jail says she hopes a legal settlement announced Tuesday will protect other Muslim women from similar treatment.

“It was one of the most humiliating and harmful experiences of my life,” Aida Al-Kadi said at a Minneapolis news conference to release details of the settlement. “I knew that I did not want any other Muslim woman to experience what I did.”

The settlement approved by a federal court last month calls for Al-Kadi to get $120,000 from Ramsey County.

In a lawsuit Al-Kadi filed over the incident, she had been asking for $300,000. In early June, the court allowed that lawsuit to proceed. The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners authorized the smaller settlement a few weeks later in a meeting that was closed to the public, as is typical for pending legal matters.

In her lawsuit, Al-Kadi said jail staff singled her out during a pat-down search and forced her to remove the hijab in front of male officers, which she said was a violation of her religious beliefs.

She said she was also forced to take off her abaya, which is a loose-flowing dress, in the presence of one of the male officers. Jail staff gave her a bed sheet to use as a hijab, according to the lawsuit.

Ramsey County has since changed its policies to allow inmates to wear the hijab while in custody. They followed Hennepin County, which in 2014 announced inmates would be allowed to wear religious head coverings in jail.

“We believe that this settlement agreement is fair and in the best interests of all of our residents,” Ramsey County Board Chair Jim McDonough said in a statement. “The county board looks forward to updates from the sheriff’s office as implementation of these practices continues.”

Supporters of Al-Kadi say they hope the case will serve as a precedent for other counties around the Minnesota, as they encounter Muslim women wearing religious garb.

“We hope now to use this settlement to revisit our hijab in jail project, in terms of contacting the counties again, with the idea that now there’s been a decision supporting the fact that they need to have a religious accommodation policy,” said Ellen Longfellow, a civil rights attorney with the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Before you go...

MPR News is dedicated to bringing you clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives when we need it most. We rely on your help to do this. Your donation has the power to keep MPR News strong and accessible to all during this crisis and beyond.