News & Views » Detroit News

Civil rights group sues Michigan prisons for photographing incarcerated Muslim women without hijabs



The Michigan chapter of the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI), has filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) for forcing women to remove their hijab for mugshots.

The lawsuit represents more than 15 women who are Muslim or members of the Moorish Science Temple of America and were asked to remove their religious headscarves. The images were used for their ID cards and are featured on MDOC's publicly accessible database of inmates.

“The stripping of the hijab for a Muslim woman is equivalent of making a non-Muslim woman walk around topless or shirtless in front of men and then publishing them to a website,” CAIR-MI staff attorney, Amy V. Doukoure, told Fox 2 News. “It's embarrassing, it is humiliating, and it is degrading for Muslim women.”

Most of the inmates who came forward are housed at the women's Huron Valley Correctional facility in Pittsfield Township.

CAIR-MI's executive director Dawud Walid says MDOC's operational procedures for photos is a violation of the inmates' religious beliefs and freedoms, which are protected under federal law.

“It is unfortunate and ironic that MDOC, which holds Americans in its custody for legal violations, is not following the law when it comes to reasonably accommodating the religious rights of Muslims,” Walid said in a press release.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, is not the first CAIR has filed against MDOC for violating Muslim religious rights. Fox 2 reports that since the organization began receiving hijab-related complaints in 2017, they have made attempts to work alongside MDOC and Huron Valley administrators in correcting policies regarding the removal of hijabs for photos.

According to Doukoure, MDOC made no effort to address these violations.

“It is really important that people understand just because they are incarcerated that doesn't mean they lose their religious liberties,” she said.

Fox 2 reached out to MDOC for comment regarding the pending litigation but provided no comment other than they had received it and are in the process of reviewing the claims.

Stay on top of Detroit news and views. Sign up for our weekly issue newsletter delivered each Wednesday.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected].

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.