A 12-year-old Muslim athlete from Santa Clara, California was forced to remove her hijab by an Air Canada official prior to boarding her flight back in August. Fatimah Abdulrahman, the first U.S. National Squash player in a hijab, was headed to Toronto, Canada with her teammates to compete when the incident occurred.
What baffled her and her family most was that she had already passed the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) inspection with no hiccups, but was ordered to remove her hijab in public upon arriving to the jetway. Abdulrahman, now 13, told KPIX via a Skype interview how it all played out.
"The Air Canada agent said you need to take that off — he pointed at my scarf — and I said I can't and he said you have to."
She then vocalized what the hijab means to her, saying "Taking it off isn't just like taking off a sock or taking off whatever, it's almost like taking off a limb. It's a big deal to me. It's part of my Muslim identity and who I am as a person. So when someone tells me to casually take it off and hurry up, it's degrading."
After being denied a private unveiling, the teen felt she was being singled out from the crowd for her religion.
"I saw someone wearing a hat, but they weren't asked to remove it. Not trying comparing the scarf and a hat [sic]. But still, it does cover your head. So why was I asked to remove it, and not them? So yeah, I did feel discriminated against," she explained.
Abdelrahman returned to the U.S. on another Air Canada flight and was not asked to remove her hijab.
The entire incident could've gone unnoticed had Fatimah's older sister not posted it on Twitter demanding an explanation as to why her little sister was put through such an ordeal.
Air Canada tweeted an apology after hearing about the incident. However, Abdulrahman's family will be taking legal action if their requests for a formal apology are not met. A direct complaint letter from the San Francisco Bay Area's (SFBA) Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to the Air Canada's head offices was sent on behalf of Abdulrahman and her family. The letter demanded monetary damages for emotional distress, immediate policy changes prohibiting discrimination and harassment, as well as cultural training for all employees.
"Our concern is that a lot of Bay Area Muslims are going to be flying either to Canada through Air Canada or face similar treatment, if these policies and procedures aren't clarified, aren't rectified and a sincere apology isn't given to the Abdelrahman family," Ammad Rafiqi, CAIR-SFBA civil rights and legal services coordinator, said in an interview.
Islamophobia and racial profiling have been taking place at U.S. airports recently
This, of course, would not be the first time religious profiling causes an issue with a passenger or an entire flight. In fact, Abdulrahman's case would be at least the third Islamophobic case to be reported during the month of September alone.
On Sept. 14, an American Airlines flight in the U.S. was halted prior to takeoff because cabin crew felt uncomfortable flying with two Muslim men on board. The two acquaintances bumped into each other on the plane and greeted one another. However, what eventually led to the grounding of the plane was that one of the men flushed the toilet twice. The flight was delayed by three hours; after investigation and luggage searching (again), both men were able to catch another flight.
In another incident reported this month, a U.S. mayor and his family were detained for hours upon their arrival to New York's JFK airport from a family trip to Turkey in August. The Muslim-American man was questioned about any relations he may have had with terrorists and terrorist groups in Turkey. His phone was also confiscated for two weeks with no explanation as to why.