Air Canada forced 12-year-old Muslim girl who plays for US squash team to remove her hijab in public before boarding flight
Fatima Abdelrahman was traveling with her squash teammates when she was stopped by the employees of Air Canada as she was about to board her flight to Toronto for a squash tournament.
Air Canada employees reportedly forced a 12-year-old Muslim girl, who plays for the US Squash team, to remove her hijab while she was boarding her flight at San Francisco International Airport. The incident occurred after she had been cleared through TSA security, according to reports.
The girl, identified as Fatima Abdelrahman from Santa Clara, California, was traveling on August 1 with her squash teammates when she was stopped by the employees of Air Canada as she was about to board her flight to Toronto for a squash tournament. At least three employees reportedly told her to remove her hijab because she was not wearing one in her passport picture.
Abdelrahman said she was left "scared and worried" during the incident. According to a complaint letter sent to Air Canada last Friday, the 12-year-old asked for a private screening area, required by law, however, she was refused and forced to remove the garment, which she wears out of religious observance, in public.
"It's a part of me. It's something that I wear every day. It's part of my daily life. I am proud to wear it," Abdelrahman, who just turned 13, told ABC. She added that the incident has left her shaken. Abdelrahman is ranked among top five on the US junior national squash team in her age group and is the first national team member to compete wearing a hijab.
The incident occurred when an Air Canada employee approached Abdelrahman as she was boarding the Toronto flight and asked her to take off her hijab. The employee claimed that it was a part of their preboarding identification procedure. After she expressed hesitancy, two more employees pressed her to remove it.
"The Air Canada agent looked at my picture, looked at me, and said 'These don't connect. You need to take it off,' (as) he pointed at (my hijab). I said, 'No, I can't.' He said, 'No, you need to!' I said, 'No, I can't, religious purposes.'"She then asked a female Air Canada agent if she could remove it in a private screening area, however, the employees instead took her to a tunnel where travelers were boarding a flight and forced her to remove the hijab.
She said that a female agent told her: "Just quickly take it off, so you can board. So I quickly took it off, didn't really know what to do. All my teammates had passed, my coach had passed. I had no idea I was alone. So I quickly took it off. She barely glanced (at the passport) and then up at me. And said 'Ok, hurry up! Hurry up! Go grab your stuff!'"
The incident caught national attention after Abdelrahman's older sister Sabreen Abdelrahman tweeted about the incident on August 1 and the post went viral.
"@AirCanada pls explain why you pulled aside my 12yr old sister for flight 758 making her take off her hijab AT THE GATE?? AFTER she already passed security??" she wrote. "Thx for ruining her experience as the first U.S. National Team Squash player in Hijab + her first time traveling alone."
Air Canada reportedly responded to the tweet with a standard complaint reply, saying: "We are truly sorry to hear about this situation and we certainly understand your concerns" and asked for Fatima's flight details.