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Officer Fights to Wear Religious Headgear On Duty

August 15, 2003  | 

A Muslim police officer has been told she will be fired from the Philadelphia Police Department if she returns to work wearing a head scarf.

Kimberlie Webb, an eight-year veteran of the Philadelphia PD, was told to remove her scarf, called a hijab, or go home without pay when she showed up to roll call wearing the religious headgear for the first time.

Webb first requested to wear the scarf, which covers a woman’s head and neck but not her face, in 1998, shortly after she converted and became a Sunni Muslim. The department denied her request, saying wearing the headgear under her uniform cap could be dangerous.

But days after Philadelphia police officials agreed to let male officers grow beards for religious or health reasons, the issue is again a hot topic.

“It is commanded by Allah that all Muslim women must cover their hair,” Webb said in a recent interview. “As a Muslim woman, I must follow this command.”

Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson disagrees. He says Webb will be fired if she wears a hijab to work again. “It is dangerous. A quarter-inch beard is not dangerous,” he says.

Rabiah Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islam Relations in Washington, D.C., says using pull-apart hook-and-loop closures to secure the head scarf eliminate any safety problems. She notes that other departments have worked out a compromise to satisfy employees and agencies.

“Other departments in other parts of the country have had similar situations, in Chicago in the sheriff’s department and in a fire department in Maryland. They were able to come to a compromise and accommodate scarves.” Ahmed believes religious freedom is the key issue under debate.

“As long as it’s her religious belief, it’s for her to decide,” says Ahmed.

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