CAIR: VALDOSTA TO REVIEW POLICY ON HEADGEAR
When newspapers told the story last week of how Aniisa Karim was denied access to the Valdosta Municipal Court for wearing a traditional Muslim headscarf, it attracted a slew of anti-Arabic slurs from Internet bloggers.
But what the bloggers didn't know is Aniisa Karim is not Arabic.
The lifelong Muslim is African-American, born and raised in Baltimore. A disc jockey for WAAC-FM Country Music Radio in Valdosta, Karim is about as apple-pie American as it gets.
"There are some real misconceptions out there," said Karim. "I saw comments on Web sites like, 'If you don't like the rules here, go back home. We don't try to make rules for Middle Eastern countries.' But I am an American. This is my home."
A statement released Thursday by Valdosta Public Information Officer Sementha Mathews claimed court officers acted properly, but expressed regret that Karim was offended by the court's rules and procedures.
Still, the city officials said they will review their policy next week.
Karim refused to remove her headscarf when she came to the courtroom of Municipal Court Judge Vernita Lee Bender on June 26 to contest a speeding ticket. Court officers had cited homeland security reasons and said wearing the headscarf would be a sign of disrespect to the judge.
Karim, who has worn the headscarf since she was 11, says it's the first time she has ever been made to feel uncomfortable over the religious custom. She has entered courtrooms in Baltimore and gone through airport security in the past without incident.
"I have never before been in a situation where I was so completely humiliated," she said. "Especially in a place like a courtroom. They're supposed to be upholding the law."
Muslim religious traditions require women to dress modestly in public. That includes wearing a headscarf, says Karim.
"Asking me to remove the scarf would be like asking a [non-Muslim] woman to remove her shirt," she said.
"I feel people who work in public offices should be more educated than this about other religions."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, a Washington-based advocacy group, and attorneys with the Georgia Association of Muslim Lawyers had confronted Valdosta about the incident, saying the judge's actions violated Karim's civil rights.
CAIR asked for a formal apology from Bender and an assurance that people wearing religious attire would be allowed to have their day in court.