Sunday, October 22, 2006

Walid comments on woman denied justice because of face veil

Muslim woman refuses to remove her veil in court, so judge tosses case
By Zachary Gorchow

Detroit Free Press

http://www.bradenton.com/mld/bradenton/news/nation/15817636.htm

DETROIT - Ginnnah Muhammad of Detroit was looking for her day in court.

Instead, she said she felt as if a judge forced her to choose between her case and her religion in a small-claims dispute in Hamtramck District Court.

A devout Muslim, she wore a niqab - a scarf and veil to cover her face and head except for her eyes - Oct. 11 as she contested a rental car company's charging her $2,750 to repair a vehicle after thieves broke into it.

Judge Paul Paruk said he needed to see her face to judge her truthfulness and gave Muhammad, 42, a choice: take off the veil when testifying or the case would be dismissed. She kept the veil on.

"I just feel so sad," Muhammad said last week. " I feel that the court is there for justice for us. I didn't feel like the court recognized me as a person that needed justice. I just feel I can't trust the court."

The wearing of a niqab has spurred increasing debate, particularly in Europe. In 2004, France banned the wearing of it and other religious symbols in public schools.

This month, former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, still a member of parliament, ignited a fierce debate over the niqab by suggesting that Muslim women in his district remove their veils when they visit his office. He said it would improve communication, calling the veil "a visible statement of separation and of difference."

It has sparked controversy in the United States as well. A Muslim woman from Florida unsuccessfully went to court in an effort to overturn the state's order in 2001 that she reveal her face for her driver's license photo.

In metro Detroit, which has one of the country's largest Muslim populations, a small minority of Muslim women - primarily those of Yemeni descent - wear the niqab, said Dawud Walid , executive director of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Paruk said that as a fact finder, he needs to see the face of a person testifying. Michigan has no rules governing what judges can do regarding religious attire of people in court, so the judges have leeway on how to run their courtrooms.

"My job in the courtroom is to make a determination as to the veracity of somebody's claim," he said. "Part of that, you need to identify the witness and you need to look at the witness and watch how they testify."

Paruk said he offered to let Muhammad, who was born in the United States and converted to Islam at the age of 10, wear the veil during the proceedings except when she testified. He said this was the first time someone had come before his court wearing a niqab, and he noted that many Muslims do not consider it a religious symbol.

"I felt I was trying to accommodate her as best I could," he said.

Walid said Paruk still violated Muhammad's civil rights.

"Although a niqab is donned by a minority of Muslim females, it is still a bona fide religious practice," he said.(MORE)

No comments:

Blog Archive