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Hijab Incident Prompts Mass. Bar Examiners to Review Religious Clothing Rules

Iman-Abdulrazzak-2Lisa Wangsness, Boston Globe

Iman Abdulrazzak, an observant Muslim, realized at the last minute that she needed special permission to wear her headscarf while taking the Massachusetts bar exam. She scrambled to fax her request for an exemption to the ban on hats and other headwear. She called the board's office in Boston repeatedly to make sure it got through.

No one said anything about her headscarf when she arrived at Western New England University School of Law in Springfield to take the high-stakes test to become a lawyer Aug. 1. But halfway through the morning session, a proctor placed a note on her desk: "Head wear may not be worn during the examination without prior written approval ... Please remove your head wear and place it under your desk for the afternoon session."

"I was like, 'Do I leave now? Is it even worth continuing?'‚ÄČ" said Abdulrazzak, of Pittsfield, who is 24 and has worn the hijab since she was 12. "For 10 minutes, I was terribly confused. I tried telling one of the proctors that I had authorization -- he kind of shushed me."

She kept working on the test. The problem was cleared up during the lunch break, when a proctor supervisor called the Board of Bar Examiners in Boston and confirmed that the office had approved Abdulrazzak's request for a religious exemption.

But Abdulrazzak said that the distraction and distress cost her about 10 minutes in the morning session and that she was not able to fully answer all of the essay questions.

"I just tried my best to get down the bare minimum of the answers in the time left and hoped for the best," she said.

The results of the exam will be posted by Nov. 1.

Marilyn Wellington, executive director of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners, called the mix-up "very unfortunate" and said the board takes responsibility for the mistake.

She said the board may consider revising its rule requiring prior authorization for religious headwear. The rule was established to prevent people from concealing notes or other information that could be used to cheat on the exam, she said, not to inhibit religious practice. (Read more)

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