"It's a part of me. It's something that I wear every day. It's part of my daily life. I am proud to wear it," says Fatima, who just turned 13-years-old.
But on her flight to her first international competition from San Francisco to Toronto, Fatima, who wasn't wearing a headscarf in her passport photo, was asked to remove her hijab by Air Canada staff at the boarding gate.
"The Air Canada agent looked at my picture, looked at me, and said 'These don't connect. You need to take it off,' (as) he pointed at (my hijab). I said, 'No, I can't.' He said, 'No, you need to!' I said, 'No, I can't, religious purposes,'" explains Fatima, who lives in Santa Clara, California.
She said a female Air Canada employee escorted her inside the jetway and forced her to take off her headscarf. Fatima said she felt violated and humiliated.
She said the female agent told her, "'Just quickly take it off, so you can board.' So, I quickly took it off, didn't really know what to do. All my teammates had passed, my coach had passed. I had no idea I was alone. So, I quickly took it off. She barely glanced (at the passport) and then up at me. And (then said), 'Ok, hurry up! Hurry up! Go grab your stuff!'"
Fatima said her issue is that she wasn't given private screening room to remove her headscarf, though she repeatedly ask for one. It's also required by state and federal law.
She feels that she was singled out.
"First of all, the hijab doesn't cover my face. So even though in the passport photo I was not wearing the hijab, you can still see my face, and see that it is the same person," said Fatima. "I saw someone wearing a hat, but they weren't asked to remove it. Not trying comparing the scarf and a hat. But still, it does cover your head. So why was I asked to remove it, and not them? So yeah, I did feel discriminated against."
Fatima's older sister, Sabreen, tweeted about the incident, which did generate a response from the airline.
"They saw a complaint and were like, copy-paste, here is an incident form. 'Let's try and cover this up!'" explained Sabreen on how her family interpreted the airline's response.
. @AirCanada pls explain why you pulled aside my 12yr old sister for flight 758 making her take off her hijab AT THE GATE?? AFTER she already passed security??— Sabreen Abdelrahman (@Sabreen_magdy) August 1, 2019
Thx for ruining her experience as the first U.S. National Team Squash player in Hijab + her first time traveling alone
Ammad Rafiqi, with the Council on American Islamic Relations San Francisco Bay Area, is the lawyer for the family.
"There is a history of Muslims... being picked (out), specifically on these issues. And that's our concern," said Rafiqi.
He said most security screening is done by the TSA, which already checked Fatima's passport and cleared her to fly. He says Air Canada violated U.S. and California law by not providing Fatima a private screening area.
"This is something Air Canada says is in their procedures, but either they don't follow it, or it's not something that's in the training for their employees, and that's the concern here," said Rafiqi.
Air Canada did not respond to repeated requests from ABC7 News for comment. But the family said, in an email from Air Canada, they were told the airline updated their policy since the incident.
Rafiqi said they gave Air Canada two weeks to respond to their complaint.