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Santa Clara Teen Forced to Remove Hijab Before Boarding Air Canada Flight at SFO

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- The San Francisco Bay Area Office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has sent Air Canada a complaint letter on behalf of 13-year-old Fatima Abdelrahman of Santa Clara after she said she was forced to remove her hijab before boarding a flight at SFO.

Abdelrahman is on the U.S. National Squash Team and was traveling with her team members in August. She had already cleared TSA security and that's when the trouble began.

"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," Abdelrahman told KPIX via Skype.

She says she was forced to remove her hijab in the jetway at SFO in front of other passengers. She says her request to remove it in a private area was refused.

"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," Abdelrahman said.

On behalf of Abdelrahman, her attorney is willing to negotiate a settlement to avoid a legal fight.

Among the demands: monetary damages for emotional distress, immediate policy changes prohibiting discrimination and harassment and 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 will 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," said Ammad Rafiqi, CAIR-SFBA civil rights and legal services coordinator.

The family wants a formal written apology. They say the company initially only responded via Twitter after the family complained.

KPIX reached out to Air Canada for a response but, as of late Friday, had not received a reply.

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