‘Summayah’ shares her ordeal with the Schedule 7 powers after being forced to remove her Hijab during a stop at a UK airport by Police Officers.. Her story part of our campaign #HandsOffOurHijabs.
It was a shocking experience because I didn’t know how to properly defend my rights. Just before my trip, I had heard a little bit about others being stopped in airports. I thought it was random, that it wouldn’t happen to me. I didn’t really think I would ever have to go through that.
But this was a slap in the face. My health is very poor. I have a respiratory condition, as well as other chronic illnesses.
At the end of my flight back to the UK, I had started to hyperventilate. I was given a disabled cart upon leaving the plane. The Police however, stopped me despite me being in the disabled cart.They took me off the cart, and put me in a glass room, with a metal lock on the door.
After about an hour of questioning they asked me to remove my hijab for pictures. I said, no I can’t, there’s men here. They said they would leave the room, and they threatened me with arrest should I not remove it. There were about three or four of them.
They were getting scared because I was collapsing. I had several officers, and there were about three, or four at time, who were coming in, saying if you don’t do this, if you don’t comply, you’re going to be arrested, and detained, and we don’t know how long it’s going to take.
I was ill, and I could barely stand. I thought I better just listen to them. I was worried about my health, and they knew about my health because I had all the medical records in my suitcase.
But I felt compelled to comply. I had everybody standing there like a calvary.
At one point, one of the border office detectives actually said: ‘Why have you detained this woman? She can barely stand’.
They wouldn’t tell me why they stopped me. I freelance for different charities, so it could have been my charity work.
To be honest, I got really scared. I am a chronically ill person, and I was already anxious.
When I took my hijab off, I asked the two men to leave. The woman then made me stand in so many different positions. They took pictures of my body and head from every angle you can think of.
After this, they asked to take my fingerprints. The machine wasn’t working so we had to try again and again. The male officers were pressing my fingers against the reader. My fingers were hurting for days.
It was a nightmare, I felt like I was in one of those horror films.
After that I couldn’t sleep, eat, or drink. I was shocked, and spent long periods just looking into thin air and just drifting off. This lasted for weeks.
Now I feel I need to record what happened, that I was asked to remove my hijab and harassed like this, even though I am ill, and they had the medical records to see it.
They were also very destructive. They ripped through my gift bags for people, messed up all my suitcases. I was so distraught.
They took my phone away, disabled it and totally messed it up, which cost me a lot to sort out. I am sure the phone is tapped.
But having to remove my hijab was so humiliating. I was in tears afterwards; I was so dehumanised. It makes me feel like my reputation is completely tarnished.
Now I need therapy for what I went through.
Muslim women who travel need to start preparing. I wasn’t equipped and I wasn’t aware of my rights during a stop, because I thought it wasn’t going to happen to me.
Everyone needs to be educated.
Throughout the stop, besides being physically ill, in my speech and attitude, I was calm and collected. I was speaking my mind, but calmly giving it back to them.
They kept saying, you’re very mentally strong.
You must assert yourself, depending on the situation. If you can get a solicitor, I would advise that everyone travel with their details. I suppose you can just be honest and truthful. At the end of the day, you’ve got nothing to hide.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)