Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Battle of the Head Scarf: a Muslim Woman, a Circuit Judge, and an Arab Muslim Attorney

Moughni’s Character Assassination is Reminiscent of Abuse of Victims of Sexual Molestation

I was shopping on Warren Avenue when I saw an orange pamphlet distributed by attorney Majed Moughni. In a footnote it reads “Please copy, post and distribute until Judge Callahan is exonerated.” I was eager to read the judge’s story. My Facebook friends were posting articles that were all presenting the woman’s side. These facts are undisputed. An Arab Muslim woman, Raneen Albaghdady, appears in Court before Wayne County court judge William Callahan. She is the last person to go on record. The judge asks her to remove her head scarf. She removes it. Then comes the lawsuit against the judge filed by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) on her behalf for violating her religious rights. Attorney Nabih Ayad, a Michigan Civil Rights Commission member is the attorney representing Ms Albaghdady.

Wayne County: Many Litigants and a Judge Wear the Muslim Head Scarf

My first reaction to this case was wondering how the judge could fail to recognize the Muslim scarf. After all, he has been a judge for a number of years in Wayne County, a county with a large Muslim presence. Day in day out Muslim women litigants wearing head scarves appear before the judges in that circuit. There is even a Wayne county judge, Charlene Makled Elder, a powerful symbol of political and legal integration of the community, who wears a head scarf. Is it possible that judge Callahan mistook the Muslim scarf for an improvised fashion statement head gear? It is possible. Lawsuits continue when there are questions of fact or law in dispute.
Mr. Moughni Steps In: “Counsel” “frivolous” “boyfriend” “singles bar”
Judge Callahan retained Dearborn attorney Mr. Majed Moughni to represent him in the lawsuit filed by CAIR. I have a passing knowledge of Mr. Moughni and respect him as a fellow attorney. But in this case he has been unfair to the litigant and used awful tactics in defending his client. The first thing that struck me is that he got the name of CAIR wrong- it is the Council not the “Counsel” as he wrote in his release. I expected Mr. Moughni to present the judge’s version of the events and make the reader give him the benefit of the doubt and tell us how the judge’s record shows that he is a tolerant person who would not violate anyone’s religious rights. Instead, Mr. Moughni arbitrarily usurped the role of the judiciary by declaring this lawsuit that raises constitutional questions “frivolous.” It gets worse. I thought that the bad old days where a woman risked that her reputation would be sullied for bringing a lawsuit were long gone. These days were resurrected by Mr. Moughni. The pamphlet referred to “singles bar” and “last boyfriend.” These are cheap shots that are reminiscent of the days when an abused woman would have her personal history, real or imagined, paraded in public as punishment for seeking justice for being wronged. Parading the victim’s personal history was also meant to shift the focus from the perpetrator to the victim.

The Mystery of the Head Scarf Revealed: No Magic

A woman that wears a head scarf does not magically transform into an angel or a superwoman. Muslim women who wear a head scarf do it out of a religious obligation they believe in. The fact that they wear it does not mean they don’t watch MTV, drink diet Cola or listen to Lady Gaga. When I was a student at Wayne State University a professor told me how he was working out in the college gym when he saw a woman wearing a Hijab playing a “mean” basketball game. He remarked how that scene was intriguing to him. It should not. Women who wear head scarves can play basketball too. That professor, who is a wonderful and tolerant man, told me how over the years he has seen an increase in the number of female students who wear a head scarf in his classroom. He stated that they tend to be the brightest students in his class. In the Greater Detroit area there is an increase, especially in the second generation, in the practice of wearing a Hijab as a religious observance and/or assertion of identity and non- Muslims are used to seeing women wearing head scarves. These women come from all walks of life.
Not Frivolous: The Hijab, a Religious Obligation, and an American Choice
It is the consensus of the Muslim religious scholars/ulema that a Hijab (Muslim head covering as well as clothes that cover most of the body) is mandated by the faith. A Hijab, however, is not a pillar of the faith like prayer, the pilgrimage to Mecca/Hajj and Zakat/alms giving are. In America the right to wear a Hijab, just like the Jewish men’s right to wear a yarmulke, is protected by the Constitution. This country gets many things right and one of the things it gets right is the balance between church and state and a nuanced secularism. There is nothing “frivolous” about that.

In this country the Hijab is a choice that women make. However, there is a mistaken belief that Muslim American women are forced to wear a Hijab. An observant Arab Muslim relayed to me an incident that occurred in California. It was a hot day in Los Angeles when a stranger approached him and his wife who wears a Hijab. The following conversation ensued:

Stranger: “How dare you dress in short sleeves while you force this poor woman to cover up like that in the heat?”
Husband: “Ask her if I made her dress like that?’
Stranger: “I can talk to her?”
Husband: “Yes”
Wife:”You think he is making me dress like that. He can not make me dress like this or not dress like this. I dress like this because God wants me to.”
The stranger got embarrassed and walked away.

Women Who Wear a Muslim Head Scarf: Women Who Are More Courageous than Many Men

After 9/11 women who wear head scarves were easy targets since they were readily identifiable. Still these women, the stronger sex, stood their ground and wore their head scarves despite the risks. For us in the Muslim community, these women wearing a Hijab are the most courageous members of our community- those who hate Muslims and want to act on the hate hesitate to attack a Muslim bearded man who might appear menacing to them. However the cowards would not fear attacking what they perceive is a meek woman.

Debatable Guilt, Clear Guilt

Despite the odds, these Muslim women exercise the religious obligation and the Constitutional right to wear a head scarf. We owe them to stand up to them, stand with them, and offer our respect and support. Judge Callahan’s culpability is debatable. I would say Judge Callahan probably deserves the benefit of the doubt on whether he knew that Ms Albaghdadi’s head cover was a religious head scarf or not. However, there is no doubt that the person who intentionally and willfully violated Ms Albaghdady is none but one of our own- Mr. Moughni who did it for less than thirty silver coins.

1 comment:

Mona Assi said...

Intense, yet very logical and respectful approach. But it angers me to know that Ms. Albaghdady is being treated this way. Attorney Majed Moughni should reconsider what he is doing, and take a better look at his conscience before doing anything else.
I think Judge william Callahan knew that the woman would be doing smoething wrong if she removed her head scarf. And I am curious to know why Judge Callahan asked Ms. Albaghdady to remove it in the first place. What is he going to gain out of seeing her hair? I also think Ms. Albaghdady should have stood up to Judge Callahan and explained her religious rights. I don't think it was fair for Ms. Albaghdady to have felt obligated to remove her head scarf.
The United States makes "Freedom of Religion" clear to all the people.