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Veil can come off, Muslim shows
Detroiter is suing Hamtramck judge
BY DAVID ASHENFELTER • FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER • April 30, 2008
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When a Hamtramck district court judge told Ginnah Muhammad she couldn't testify in a 2006 small claims lawsuit unless she removed her veil, she was willing to lose the case for a religious principle.
But when she showed up Tuesday at the federal courthouse in Detroit to appear in a religious discrimination lawsuit against the Hamtramck judge, the 44-year-old Detroit Muslim not only removed her veil, but she removed her black head-to-toe garment and produced a Michigan driver's license containing a photo of her unveiled face.
Not so, Muhammad and her lawyer said after a 30-minute hearing before U.S. District Judge John Feikens.
Muhammad said she would have removed her veil in Hamtramck had Judge Paul Paruk allowed her to testify before a female judge. Paruk is the only district judge in Hamtramck. He also declined her request for a change of venue.
Muhammad said she routinely removes her veil at the request of female airport screeners, who check her in a private room.
Muhammad said that's the procedure a court security officer used Tuesday to screen her, and the procedure that was used to have her driver's license photo taken by the Michigan Secretary of State.
"Everyone else has accommodated her," her lawyer, Nabih Ayad of Plymouth, said after Tuesday's hearing, in which Muhammad sought to prevent Paruk from requiring other Muslim women to remove their veils in court.
Paruk demanded she remove her veil so he could assess her credibility. Ayad said judges in other countries assess the credibility of Muslim women by watching how they use their hands.
During Tuesday's hearing, Feikens hinted that he might take no action. Both Ayad and Assistant Michigan Attorney General Margaret Nelson acknowledged under questioning that U.S. Supreme Court decisions permit Feikens to decline to take a stand on the issue.
If that happens, Ayad said he would appeal to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Ayad said he's willing to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Muhammad, who runs a skin-care business in Oak Park, sued a car rental company for $3,000 in 2006 after it tried to charge her to repair damage caused by thieves.
Ayad told Feikens that Muhammad is a devout Muslim who has been wearing a veil since she was 10. When she refused to remove her veil in the Hamtramck case, Paruk dismissed her suit. Meanwhile, the car rental firm won a judgment against her.
Ayad argued that Paruk violated her right to practice her religion and denied her access to the court.
"She feels she is fighting for all similarly situated Muslims," Ayad said.
Nelson countered that Paruk's request had "only incidental impact on her expression of religion" and that he treated her consistently with others who testify in his court.
Contact DAVID ASHENFELTER at or email@example.com
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