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Woman Ticketed for Wearing Muslim Veil

October 6, 1994

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ To the police who stopped and questioned her, the woman dressed from head to toe looked ″bizarre.″ She was wearing a veil, a heavy dark robe and gloves.

At first she wouldn’t speak to the four or five male officers. Then she got angry when they told her to uncover her face or leave the St. Paul skyway, a maze of public corridors bridging downtown streets and stores.

Police then escorted her to a small room, where they gave the Muslim woman a ticket for violating a 1963 state law against concealing one’s identity in public. The offense carries up to 90 days in jail and a $700 fine.

Local Muslims complained that Tayyibah Amatullah, a 21-year-old American convert to Islam, has a religious right to wear modest dress.

″Where is freedom of religion? ... I mean, I lived here for 25 years. Where is that?″ asked Magda Saikali, a Muslim activist. ″For God sakes, was she caught in a criminal act? No.″

Police spokesman Paul Adelmann said Wednesday that the law does not allow people to conceal their identity with robes, masks or disguises unless it is for entertainment purposes.

The law has been often enforced recently along the skyways, mostly against youths wearing ski masks or bandanas. Police said they’re acting to prevent thefts, bank robberies and shoplifting.

″We didn’t feel this was about religion. We felt this was about enforcing a law,″ Adelmann said.

Amatullah, who has a criminal record that includes shoplifting, was dressed in a way that ″didn’t look anything like any Muslim dress any of the officers had ever seen,″ Adelmann said. ″The word those officers used was ‘bizarre.’ ... It did not look at all Muslim.″

Furthermore, he said, such complete covering of the body is not mandated in the Koran, the Muslim holy book.

″That’s not a judgment for the state to make,″ countered Steven Shapiro, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in New York City. ″People have the right to make the judgment of what their religion commands. There was no crime here other than the wearing of this clothing.″

He said the case is a ″misguided effort from beginning to end,″ and police ought to back off and the Legislature ought to look at the law again.

Amatullah, who changed her name from Tasherra Baker in January, said she will contest the citation, issued Sept. 28. No court date has been set.

″I could see if I was doing something suspicious,″ she said, ″but I was just walking in the mall.″

She said she offered a police officer identification - a driver’s license from before her conversion to Islam two years ago with a paper indicating her more recent name change - so she wasn’t trying to conceal her identity.

Amatullah was cited for shoplifting three years ago. Police said she also was arrested nine months ago for writing a bad check, a charge she denies. The status of the case was not immediately known.

Mustafa Siddiqui, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Minnesota, said fewer than 5 percent of women in Minnesota’s 25,000-member Muslim community cover themselves as completely as Amatullah. But, he said, it is a personal religious decision and is quite common in parts of the Middle East.

Siddiqui said lack of information about Islam appears to be the problem, not ill intentions. Officers, he said, should visit area mosques and receive more training.

″It is a difficult issue and we realize that police have to do their jobs, and we don’t want some criminals to take this hint and portray a Muslim woman and commit crimes,″ he said.

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