Muslim cabbie sues for right to wear religious garb

ST. LOUIS — A Muslim taxicab driver is suing the city of St. Louis, the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission and a private security company, saying he has been harassed and arrested because he insists on wearing religious garb.

Raja Awais Naeem, who works for Harris Cab and manages a shuttle service called A-1 Shuttle, says his religious beliefs require him to wear modest, loose-fitting clothing and a hat called a kufi. But that garb has run afoul of the taxicab commission’s dress code for cabbies, Naeem claims in the suit filed Thursday (Dec. 13) in St. Louis Circuit Court.

Naeem, originally from Pakistan but now a U.S. citizen, said he has been told he must adhere to the commission’s rules requiring a white shirt, black pants and no kufi. Baseball caps are allowed, as long as they have no logo other than the taxi certificate holder.

He claims he has been harassed and had his taxi license suspended when he continued wearing clothing he says is required by Islam, including the kufi, a loose shirt called a kurta and loose-fitting pants called shalwar. Naeem said the clothing maintains modesty by concealing the figure.

In his lawsuit, Naeem says he was written a citation by a Whelan Security guard in June 2011 for wearing “foreign country religious dress.” Other times he had his taxi license suspended or was told he would be arrested for trespassing if he worked in his religious clothing, he said.

“I don’t understand how you can justify somebody wearing his religious clothes getting arrested,” Naeem said in a news conference on the courthouse steps, where he was joined by other cabbies and his lawyer from the ACLU.

His suit seeks an injunction to allow religious dress for cabdrivers, and civil damages including attorney’s fees and other costs.