Northern California Muslim athlete suing Air Canada for forcing her to remove hijab

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Fatima Abdelrahman has achieved a lot of firsts in her life. She ranked top five on the U.S. junior national squash team in her age group. And is the first national team member to compete wearing a hijab.

"It's a part of me. It's something that I wear every day. It's part of my daily life. I am proud to wear it," says Fatima, who just turned 13-years-old.

But on her flight to her first international competition from SFO to Toronto, Fatima, who wasn't wearing a headscarf in her passport photo, was asked to remove her hijab by Air Canada staff at the boarding gate.

"The Air Canada agent looked at my picture, looked at me, and said 'These don't connect. You need to take it off,' (as) he pointed at (my hijab). I said, 'No, I can't.' He said, 'No, you need to!' I said, 'No, I can't, religious purposes,'" explains Fatima, who lives in Santa Clara.

She says a female Air Canada employee escorted her inside the jetway at and forced her to take off her headscarf. Fatima says she felt violated and humiliated.

She says the female agent told her, "'Just quickly take it off, so you can board.' So, I quickly took it off, didn't really know what to do. All my teammates had passed, my coach had passed. I had no idea I was alone. So, I quickly took it off. She barely glanced (at the passport) and then up at me. And (then said), 'Ok, hurry up! Hurry up! Go grab your stuff!'"

Fatima says her issue is that she wasn't given private screening room to remove her headscarf, though she repeatedly ask for one, and which is required by state and federal law. She also feels that she was singled out.

"First of all, the hijab doesn't cover my face. So even though in the passport photo I was not wearing the hijab, you can still see my face, and see that it is the same person," says Fatima, adding, "I saw someone wearing a hat, but they weren't asked to remove it. Not trying comparing the scarf and a hat. But still, it does cover your head. So why was I asked to remove it, and not them? So yeah, I did feel discriminated against."

Fatima's older sister, Sabreen, tweeted about the incident, which did generate a response from the airline.

"They saw a complaint and were like, copy-paste, here is an incident form. 'Let's try and cover this up!'" explains Sabreen on how her family interpreted the airline's response.



Ammad Rafiqi, with the Council on American Islamic Relations San Francisco Bay Area, is the lawyer for the family.

"There is a history of Muslims... being picked (out), specifically on these issues. And that's our concern," says Rafiqi.

He says most security screening is done by the TSA, which already checked Fatima's passport and cleared her to fly. He says Air Canada violated U.S. and California law by not providing Fatima a private screening area.

"This is something Air Canada says is in their procedures, but either they don't follow it, or it's not something that's in the training for their employees, and that's the concern here," says Rafiqi.

Air Canada did not respond to repeated requests from ABC7 News for comment, but the family says, in an email from Air Canada, they were told the airline updated their policy since the incident.

Rafiqi says they gave Air Canada two weeks to respond to their complaint.
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