Muslims see mug shot of woman forced to remove hijab as ongoing issue

By Ben Trachtenberg

In the wake of DuPage police releasing a mug shot of a Rafath Waheed without her head scarf, many in the Muslim community said they felt insulted by the lack of sensitivity to their religious customs and say this is just one example of an ongoing problem.

“I think that’s a huge violation of her independence,” said Shapla Shaheen, 21, of Naperville. If you’re obviously wearing something that’s covering yourself and you’re doing that purposefully, and somebody forces you to take it off, it’s taking away your choice. I think that’s disrespectful.”

Shaheen, a Muslim who has worn hijab since high school, said wearing the garment gives her a personal connection to God that is very important to her.

Waheed, 61,  who is scheduled to reappear in court May 25,  was charged with four counts of perjury, two counts of forging documents and two counts of delivering a forged document. She was arrested March 15  on suspicion that she forged signatures for her application to the College of DuPage Board of Trustees.

The DuPage County Sherriff’s Office took two sets of mug shots, one showing Waheed with her headscarf on, and one with it pulled down around her neck. Only the set without the head covering was initially released to the public, sparking outrage about religious insensitivity.

Hoda Katebi, communications coordinator for the Chicago branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said doesn’t believe this is just an isolated incident.

“It’s not out of the ordinary at all. Here at CAIR we have two current lawsuits against police,” said Katebi, who also runs a popular fashion blog dedicated to Muslim fashion. “But that’s just lawsuits, we have constant reports of harassment from the police

“Personally, I have been arrested—it was a planned arrest during a protest—and the police wanted to remove my hijab and it felt intimately violating”

Nazia Choudhury, 23, a student at the University of Illinois, said that she wore hijab when she made pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca—known as making Hajj—but chooses not to wear hijab in America because she fears people who do not understand the custom.

“In Saudi Arabia, I felt beautiful in hijab and felt very respected,” Choudhury said  in an email. “On the contrary, once I was back, I felt insecure about my ‘attire’ and even if people didn’t judge me on it, I felt they did.”

Hijab, a term used to refer to a wide variety of head coverings traditionally worn by Muslim women, has become a controversial issue both in the U.S. and abroad. In France, it is outlawed in public schools along with all other religious garments, and the European Court of Justice ruled last month that companies are allowed to fire their employees for wearing hijab if they have a blanket ban on religious displays at work.

Muhammad Ullah, a staff member at the Downtown Islamic Center in Chicago, said the police deserved the benefit of the doubt, but still held them to task.

“Law Enforcement are human, but they must have had some suspicion of this woman,” Ullah said. “I have no idea what conversation they had beforehand. However, this action must be condemned.

“Local government needs to be educated, law enforcement needs to be educated so this doesn’t happen.”

‘Photo at top: Rafath Waheed was arrested March 15 on suspicion that she forged signatures for her application to the College of DuPage Board of Trustees. (DuPage County Sheriff’s Office)