Woman’s Scarf a College Issue

Times Staff Writer

The board of trustees of Antelope Valley College will decide at its meeting today what action to take in regard to an instructor who ordered a 19-year-old Muslim student to remove her hijab head scarf or leave his class, the college president said Thursday.

Student Fajr Burhan said instructor Robert Daniel told her to remove her scarf when she walked into his computer information science class last week. Burhan said she refused, explaining that she wore the hijab for religious reasons.

“I sat down. I knew my rights, but I was shaking like crazy,” Burhan said. “Two minutes later, he said something like, ‘Now you have a choice, take off the scarf and stay in the class or leave.’ ”


When she again refused, Burhan said, Daniel asked her to walk out to the hall, where they met Tom Miller, dean of business and computer studies.

“The dean looked at me and said, ‘Is this for religious purposes?’ I said yes, and he told [Daniel], ‘If this is for religious purposes, you have to respect that.’ ”

Burhan had shown up for the class, the first of the semester, along with four other students, hoping to add the course. When five students were dropped for missing the class, Burhan asked to be added. Daniel denied her request, telling her he was saving a slot for an emergency, college officials said.

“The instructor was wrong,” said Don Mourton, the college’s vice president of student services. “The statement that he was holding a spot for an emergency is a violation of college policy.”

Daniel, an engineer, began teaching part time at the Lancaster school in fall 2002, college officials said. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.

In some workplaces, when Muslim women have been asked to remove their head scarves, the matter has been resolved once the employers learned of the religious significance of the hijab, said Ra’id Faraj, public relations director for the Southern California office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

In France, a law banning the wearing of religious symbols, including head scarves, has caused angry marches and protests.

“It’s really bizarre that we would encounter this in a college,” Faraj said. “It’s rather a surprise that a professor at a college would make such comments and such demands.”

Burhan, who works as a laboratory technician at the college, said that even after returning to the class, she felt uncomfortable.

She said college officials and students had been supportive from the beginning and that interim college President Jackie Fisher urged her to add the class.

On Wednesday, her first day back in class since the incident, Burhan said, Daniel apologized in front of her classmates.

But Burhan said she thought the instructor should be fired.

“There will be many other cases where other girls walk in with the hijab,” she said.

“Even if he doesn’t turn around and ask another girl to take off her scarf, he already showed he has a negative opinion toward the hijab. I don’t think he can be fair.”