Ginnah Muhammad is a Muslim woman in Michigan who was forced to decide whether to violate her religious principles (in removing a veil before testifying) or to lose her small-claims lawsuit. Muhammad wears a full hijab as well as a niqab, a veil that covers all but a 2-inch space for her eyes.When she refused, Hamtramck district court in 2006 dismissed her case. She has not appealed to the federal court.
Muhammad agreed to remove her veil for security in a private area with a female guard. However, she drew the line in removing the veil in a public courtroom. The problem may be one of jurisdiction and whether the federal judge can review the validity of the state judge’s action — at least that is the basis for the motion to dismiss by the Michigan Attorney General.
The case itself is hardly earth-shaking. Muhammad was suing a car rental company of $2,083 after the company charged her for damage done by thieves.
While I understand 31st District Judge Paul Paruk’s concern over the jury’s ability to determine credibility, I do not agree with the decision. The ruling effectively bars devote Muslim women from testifying before male judges and observers (she offered to testify before a female judge, though I do not believe that such an accommodation would be appropriate since it would defeat random selection of judges and still not resolve the presence of men on the jury and in the courtroom). Any problem with credibility is likely to go against the devout witness, who appears willing to risk such a disadvantage.
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