Skip to main content

Muslim woman sues New York police after being forced to remove hijab

Legal case claims action violated First Amendment, as well as federal and state laws
Yonkers' police are still in possession of two photos of Malkawi uncovered, according to lawsuit (AFP/File photo)

A Muslim woman has filed a class-action federal lawsuit against the Yonkers Police Department in New York after she was forced to remove her hijab for her mugshot photo.

The incident occurred on 26 August 2019 when Ihsan Malkawi and her husband were arrested in "false allegations of abuse" made by their daughter, which was later deemed to be "unfounded."

Malkawi's daughter had tried to run away from home a day earlier because she wanted to return to Michigan, where the family formerly lived.

When Ihsan and her husband were out enrolling their daughter in school, the adolescent girl called the police and claimed that she had been beaten with a belt and curtain rod, the lawsuit said.

'I've been through a lot of stress and anxiety and nightmares. I'm still suffering, to be honest'

- Ihsan Malkawi

Ihsan was arrested, handcuffed, taken to a booking cell and ordered by a female officer to remove her hijab for a mugshot. "You can't take a photo or go into a cell with this," the officer told her, according to the lawsuit.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


Ihsan, who had never been asked to remove her hijab in public, explained to the officer that the religious head covering was not a fashion accessory but an obligation according to her faith. The officer refused, telling her: "It's the law."

Her scarf was confiscated and she had to remain in her cell uncovered for another 36 hours. Multiple men, including at least six male police officers, saw her without her hijab during this period.

Malkawi was then forced to appear in court the next day, again without her hijab.

"With her head and hair exposed against her will, Ms. Malkawi felt terrified, helpless, and violated," the lawsuit said.

'My whole life was no longer normal'

The legal action, filed on Wednesday, said the police department's policy violated the First Amendment, as well as federal and state laws and "must be changed." 

"Like many Muslim women whose religious beliefs dictate that they wear a hijab, Ms. Malkawi felt exposed and violated without hers - as if she were naked in a public space," the lawsuit said.

Malkawi said in an interview with Huffington Post that the incident had left her traumatised.

"My whole life was no longer normal," she said. "I've been through a lot of stress and anxiety and nightmares. I'm still suffering, to be honest." 

In 2018, two Muslim women sued the New York Police Department after being forced to remove their hijabs for their mugshots.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.