Friday, October 14, 2005

Police force Muslim woman to remove veil

By Shaista GohirCourtesy of MVUK,
this article appeared in following newspapers : The Jang (2nd June), Pakistan Post (3rd June), Asian Post (3rd June) and The Asian Leader, North Edition(6th June)

A Muslim woman from Birmingham has branded West Midlands Police as racist and Islamophobic. She says her calls to the police for help resulted in her being arrested and claims that she was ordered to remove her hijab (head scarf) and niqab (face veil) by police officers at the station.

Mrs Mahfooz Bibi has been arrested four times in a 14 month period over disputes with her neighbours. Although her neighbours are also Muslim the Pakistani mother of five claims that she was victimised because she wears the hijab and niqab.

Mrs Bibi’s husband who is also a policeman, but based at a different station, is shocked at the way his wife has been treated. Despite lodging formal complaints a year ago, they are still waiting to hear the outcome of the case.

The first incident ironically occurred on September 11th 2003, the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Mrs Bibi, who lives in the Sparkhill area, had called the police after she and her two sons had been physically assaulted by neighbours. She complained about what had occurred to a Muslim Police Officer in Urdu, as she was not fluent in English. She alleges that although the Muslim Officer was sympathetic, the other police officer ignored her version of events and instead ordered her to be arrested. “I could not believe what was happening. I had called the police yet I was being arrested for causing a breach of the peace. There was physical evidence of injuries to my sons but my complaint was ignored,” says Mrs Bibi, speaking through an interpreter.

When she was taken to Belgrave Road Police Station, which serves a predominantly Asian area, she was released without charge. However Mrs Bibi describes how she was mocked and ridiculed by police officers. “At the station, officers were looking at me and putting their hands over their face and making gestures to show they were wearing niqabs. One of the officers that drove me back home even mimicked me by making whimpering noises because I was crying in the back of the car.”

On another occasion Mrs Bibi was arrested and charged for criminal damage although the allegations were unfounded and the case later dropped due to the lack of evidence. She explains how officers had ordered her to remove her head scarf and veil while she was in custody at the police station.

“The male officer demanded that I remove my face veil for a photograph. After consulting my interpreter and solicitor I agreed providing I was dealt with by a female officer. However, the female officer told me to remove my entire hijab and uncover my head. I even asked her if this would be the case for everyone, including for Sikh Males who wear turbans. I was told it was normal practice, so I removed my hijab.”

After the incident Mrs Bibi was upset to learn that Sikh males are not required to remove their turbans for photographs.

A month later, Mrs Bibi was taken to the police station again. She alleges that the same male officer demanded she remove her veil so he could see her face. “I felt vulnerable and his oppressive behaviour made me very scared. Through duress I unveiled my face to the male sergeant. I felt humiliated at having to remove my niqab in front of this man.”

Still upset at her ordeal, Mrs Bibi added, “The police force’s lack of sensitivity towards the Muslim culture is evident from the way I have been treated.”

Mrs Bibi’s, then 17 year old daughter, Sofina Bibi claims she was also ordered to remove her face veil by the same male police officer when she attended the station voluntarily to answer questions. “When I asked him why this was necessary the officer replied ‘You are a danger to me’. However, I refused to remove the veil in front of him,” explains Sofina.

When Mrs Bibi lodged two formal complaints last year about her treatment, senior police officers dismissed her allegations. However Mrs Bibi pursued the matter with the Independent Police Complaints Commission who instructed West Midlands Police to investigate the complaint further. Although the case has now been taken up by the Professional Standards Department at Lloyd House, Mrs Bibi accuses West Midlands Police of not taking her complaints seriously. “They have failed to take any action against the officers concerned and a year on I am still waiting to hear the outcome of the case.”

It is thought that the negative perceptions the Muslim community already has about the police will be reinforced by Mrs Bibi’s case. Already counter-terrorism powers are used disproportionately against Muslims and recently a Met police officer was suspended over claims of racial abuse after he was secretly recorded by a Kurdish teenager that he had arrested.

Also the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) concluded their inquiry earlier this year, which was launched in October 2003 in the wake of the undercover BBC documentary that revealed racism among police recruits. According to the CRE report, a new disciplinary offence of "racial misconduct" should be created to combat bigotry in the police. At present, racial misconduct cases are brought under a number of different sections, increasing the chance that they are not recorded properly.

Although it will be impossible to entirely stamp out racism in the police force, implementation of the 125 recommendations by the CRE report should go a long way in improving the situation.

Shaista Gohir is the Director of Muslim Voice UK
If any Muslim women have been treated in a similar manner by any organisation, please e-mail