Featured Contributor Nusrat Qadir offers her view on the hijab ban instituted by the Columbus, OH police department.
Police departments in America have been under a great deal of scrutiny for the increased tension regarding race relations, yet recently a Columbus police station made the news due to religion rather than race by not hiring Officer Issmahan Isse. One would think her Somali-American, Muslim, and female identity would be an asset for the local police department, yet instead was met with resistance due to her desire to wear the hijab, a scarf that covers the head and neck area. The Columbus police station stated their policy that “prohibits women from wearing headscarves as a safety issue” in order to have every officer look the same. While Mayor Coleman of Columbus is commendably asking the police department to review its policy, the issue allowing a Muslim woman wearing a hijab should not require such a detailed examination.
Officer Isse complied with the requirement to not wear the hijab during her training at the police academy, yet after her training and during her interviews wore her hijab and after completing her training was informed of the policy that she could not work with her hijab. While some may view the hijab as a symbol of Islamic extremism, it in essence is a tool that allows a Muslim woman to be liberated and able to avoid harassment. History of modest attire and covering is noted prior to the advent of Islam most notably recognized on Mary, mother of Jesus. The hijab is meant to cover and protect a woman and is described in the Quran as part of modest attire that covers the head, neck and bosom. Women of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, as well as women of other sects of Islam, are noted to cover their head, neck and lower portion of their chins while wearing a loose outer garment and choose to cover because it is liberating and allows them to retain their modesty and morals per the Quran’s guidance.
Prior struggles regarding religious attire on the police force have come from male Jewish police officers wearing their yarmulkes and male Sikh police officers wearing their turbans. Jewish and Sikh male police officers have won their rights to wear their religious headgear challenging many police departments in America by citing the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to protect their religious freedoms. Like the yarmulke and turban, the hijab covering is easily adapted to the Western work environment. The Columbus police department should strongly reconsider its policy rejecting hijab practicing Muslim women to serve as police officers, especially during a time when diversity is so desperately needed within our American police force.
Columbus, Ohio is the number two city in America for Somali immigrants and Officer Isse would be a friendly face within the community. Ms. Isse would bring a greatly needed female perspective as well as a Somali and Muslim cultural background to the Columbus police department and such diversity should be welcomed rather than denied. Modest attire, head covering and minimizing one’s beauty has been a tool of safety and empowerment for Muslim and non-Muslim women for centuries. Allowing this right for Ms. Isse to have her spiritual protection on the job as well as her skills to serve as a police officer should make her safer than most of her counterparts.