CHICAGO: A 32-year-old Muslim woman has accused a US department store of discrimination after she was asked to leave the retail outlet for wearing the traditional Islamic veil or the 'niqab'.
Sarah Safi, from Gary, Indiana, was wearing a niqab, a veil that covers the face, leaving only the area around the eyes clear, when she entered a Family Dollar store.
The incident, which was captured on cell phone video and took place in front of Safi's children, began when she stopped at the store on Monday to purchase charcoal for a family barbecue.
"I might have made it 10 steps into the store and I hear the lady behind the counter say, 'Ma'am, you need to take that off your face or you need to leave my store,'" Safi told WLS-TV
At that point, Safi began to record the exchange on her cell phone.
She told the clerk that she wears a niqab and hijab for religious purposes but the clerk, who identified herself as the manager, insisted that Safi should leave.
"I understand, but you have to understand too this is a high crime area and we get robbed a lot. You need to remove that from your face or remove yourself from the store," the clerk said.
"I told her this country is a country of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and I have a right to wear whatever I want," Safi said.
While her children waited in the car, the store employee told Safi if she did not leave she would call the police.
"Do I wait for the police to come and let my children see this, or do I go head and just go and let Allah handle it how he sees fit?" Safi said recounting what she thought back then. Safi then decided to leave.
The worker also had parting words for her as she was on her way out.
"Have a blessed day," the employee says, according to the video.
"I'm really saddened. I was born here, raised here all my life and I've never been to an establishment and been treated like this," Safi said.
She said she had been covering her face in public for years, and the only thing she wants is for the store employee to apologise.
"I would like to sit with her and speak to her about what I believe in, because maybe if she heard and really listened to what I believe it I would open her heart," Safi said.
"It's not just a blatant violation of the civil rights laws of this country, but it's also a violation of the basic laws of decency and morality that you don't treat customers this way just because they have a different cultural background or a different religion," said Council on American–Islamic Relations' Ahmed Rehab in a statement.