“I don’t unveil … because it would be disobeying my Lord,” Freeman said

FLORIDA, May 29 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) – A Muslim American woman, who converted to Islam in 1997, has sued the state of Florida to battle a demand that she removes her ‘niqab’ – a veil that only leaves a woman’s eyes uncovered – for a driver’s license photograph.

In her court testimony Tuesday, May 27, at the start of her non-jury trial, Freeman, who has submitted a copy of the Glorious Qur’an as evidence, said, “I don’t unveil … because it would be disobeying my Lord.”

On Wednesday, May 28, Sultaana Freeman defended her case, asserting to the judge that removing the veil “just was not an option.”

“I firmly believe that Islam demands that I wear a niqab in situations such as this,” Agence France-Presse quoted her as telling Orlando court. 

“There are numerous references in the Qur’an demanding us to veil,” Freeman said.

She said her constitutional right to religious freedom was violated when she was denied a driver’s license last year after she refused to remove her veil for the photograph.

Before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., Freeman held a valid driver’s license showing her wearing her veil, CNN said. 

Nine months after she had received her license, she received a letter from the state warning that it would revoke her license unless she returned for a photo with her face uncovered.

When Freeman failed to renew her license with a full facial photograph, Florida took away her driving privileges, the all-news network added.

The state of Florida said that, after the September 11 attacks, her license would have to show her entire face, citing safety and security reasons for its decision.

Florida Assistant Attorney General Jason Vail argued that having an easily identifiable photo on a driver’s license is a matter of public safety.

“It’s the primary method of identification in Florida and the nation,” Vail told reporters. “I don’t think there can be any doubt there is a public safety interest.”

But Howard Simon of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which is representing Freeman in her case against Florida, asked, “How is it going to make us any safer to prevent this woman from driving her kids to the doctor or to go grocery shopping without a license – by requiring her to take off her veil?”

Religious Freedom

Freeman and her husband on their way to the courtroom 

Freeman’s lawyer, Howard Marks, said the case is all about religious freedom.

“I don’t think there is any mistake about that – it’s about whether or not in this country, we’re going to allow the religious diversity we’ve had for years,” CNN quoted Marks as saying.

Marks said the cancellation of her driver’s license amounted to a violation of her constitutional rights to freedom from religious persecution, to expression and for equal protection under the law.

Commenting on the situation, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) said niqab is not a mandatory (required) part of Islam, but the group does support her position.

“She sincerely feels that this is something, this is going to advance her piety and her sense of modesty,” said Altaf Ali of the Washington-based Muslim advocacy group.

Freeman said Florida’s decision has “put a great deal of stress” on her.

“It’s totally changed my life, and I really feel like a prisoner in my own home a lot of the time,” she added.

Some states, including Illinois, Idaho, and Vermont, allow members of certain religious groups to acquire a license without a photograph. And Florida does not require a picture on a temporary driving permit.

Freeman’s trial is expected to last a few days. A judge will make the final decision about whether she will be allowed to acquire a license without a full facial photograph, CNN said.

On what Islam says about niqab, it is somehow controversial. The majority of jurists maintain that it is not obligatory unless there is fear of temptation.