Muslim woman reaches $120,000 settlement with Ramsey County after hijab removed at jail

"It was one of the most humiliating and harmful experiences of my life."

Sloane Martin
December 17, 2019 - 4:04 pm
Aida Al-Kadi
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Ramsey County reaches a $120,000 settlement with a woman who was forced to remove her hijab at the county jail. It's a case that involves freedom of religion and the change that can happen when an ordinary person continues to fight.

Aida Al-Kadi's last name translates to "judge" in Arabic, so it was befitting that the St. Louis Park woman, 57, took legal matters into her own hands. 

"Now, Muslim women in Minnesota, who face the brunt of Islamophobic hate crimes, know at least that when they're in Ramsey County and Hennepin County they can expect that they'll be treated with dignity," activist and Advocacy Director for Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment Asma Mohammed said. 

Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Jaylani Hussein, praised Al-Kadi's "courage" and "determination."

It was August 2013 when the daughter of an Ohio steelworker was arrested on a warrant for missing a court date for a traffic violation. She said it was due to her daughter's medical emergency. At the Ramsey County Jail she was forced to start disrobing in front of male jail workers and remove her head scarf, both of which are against her religious beliefs. 

After the booking photo with her head uncovered, the workers tossed her a bedsheet to use as a hijab.

"It was one of the most humiliating and harmful experiences of my life," Al-Kadi said. "I knew I did not want any other Muslim woman to experience what I did."

She first went to the Minnesota chapter of , whose office wrote letters to Hennepin and Ramsey Counties. Hennepin officials, which were in the process of updating their policy, worked with CAIR in 2014 to develop guidelines for religious head coverings. Some counties around the state changed their own policies or adopted Hennepin's. Ramsey that year started providing approved hijabs.

jail-approved, two-piece hijab

CAIR filed with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, but the agency found no probable cause for discrimination. At that point, Al-Kadi wasn't giving up. 

When she couldn't find an attorney to take her case, she studied at the Ramsey County law library and filed a federal lawsuit pro se, or without representation — a complicated process.

A judge recommended she get in touch with the Pro Se project, which set her up with a team of attorneys, including Caitlinrose Fisher, who said the case came down to the 14th Amendment.

"The settlement is far greater than Ms. Al-Kadi," Fisher said. "Ramsey County has also agreed to implement the policy changes, like those implemented by Hennepin County years ago. Now every woman who is detained by Ramsey County and is a practicing Muslim will be allowed to wear their hijab in the booking photo. Every Ramsey County Sheriff's Office corrections officers will be trained on that new policy."

The legal team was honored as one of the Minnesota attorneys of the year for their work in the case, which was set to go to trial this week.

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