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Houston jailers refuse to let observant Muslim wear hijab in prison


An observant Muslim woman in the Harris County jail is being denied access to traditional head covering and sleeves, a violation of her religious rights, according to her lawyers.

Nadia Irsan, 31, is in jail awaiting trial on a charge of stalking, accused along with other family members for taking part in two fatal shootings in 2012 that authorities called “honor killings.”

Irsan, along with other members of her family, have been convicted of fraud in federal court. After that case wrapped up last year, Irsan was moved to the Harris County jail to face state charges in the two shootings.

While in federal custody, according to her lawyers, she was allowed to have a hijab, a head covering, and sleeves to cover her arms, which are tenets of her faith. Those accommodations were taken away when she moved to the Harris County jail, her lawyers said.

“We’ve been trying for the past two months to try to get her back to what she had when she was in federal custody,” Carpenter said. “We were told it was a security issue, but I don’t understand why it would be if it wasn’t a problem in federal custody.”

Carpenter, and another female attorney, have been meeting with Irsan instead of her primary attorney, Eric Davis, because it is against the woman’s faith to be seen without covering by men who are not family.

Davis and Carpenter, who are lawyers with Harris County’s Public Defender’s Office, said Wednesday they have been working with jailers for months on a solution.

They said jailers first took away the religious garb she had been issued in federal court and gave her a bed sheet to use as a hijab and socks to cut holes in to use as sleeves.

After she filed a complaint, according to her lawyers, those accessories were taken away and she was cited for destruction of county property for cutting up the socks.

“It goes to the foundation of what this country was founded on,” Davis said. “It’s part of her worship. It’s analogous to a Christian having their Bible taken away.”

Ryan Sullivan, a spokesman for the Harris County


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