Some more general issues relating to niqab (the face veil) are discussed here. But this story brings up the question of wearing niqab in court:
A devout Muslim, she wore a niqab -- a scarf and veil to cover her face and head except for her eyes -- Oct. 11 as she contested a rental car company's charging her $2,750 to repair a vehicle after thieves broke into it. Judge Paul Paruk said he needed to see her face to judge her truthfulness and gave Muhammad, 42, a choice: take off the veil when testifying or the case would be dismissed. She kept the veil on.What do Islamic scholars say? Conservative Saudi scholar Muhammad al-Munajjid, who believes that niqab is religiously mandatory, quotes the views of a number of historical scholars on this issue:
Al-Dasooqi said: " When testimony is given concerning a woman who wears niqaab (face-veil), she has to remove her niqaab. This applies in the case of marriage and other matters, such as selling, giving gifts, debts, power of attorney, and so on. This is the opinion favoured by our shaykh." (Haashiyat al-Dasooqi 'ala'l-Sharh al-Kabeer, 4/194).
It is permissible for a woman to uncover her face when she is giving testimony in court, whether she is a witness in a case or is there to witness a deal, and it is permissible for the qaadi (judge) to look at her in order to know who she is and to protect the rights of all concerned. Shaykh al-Dardeer said: "It is not permitted to give testimony against a woman in niqaab until she uncovers her face so that it may be known who she is and what she looks like." (Al-Sharh al-Kabeer li'l- Shaykh al-Dardeer, 4/194) Ibn Qudaamah said: "The witness may look at the face of the woman against whom he is testifying so that his testimony will speak about her in specific terms. Ahmad said: 'He cannot testify against a woman unless he knows who she is.'" (Al-Mughni, 7/459; al-Sharh al-Kabeer 'ala Matan al-Muqni', 7/348, bi haamish al-Mughni; al-Hidaayah ma'a Takmilat Fath al-Qadeer, 10/26).
It is permissible for a woman to uncover her face in front of a qaadi (judge) who is to rule either in her favour or against her, and in this situation he may look at her face in order to know who she is and for the sake of protecting people's rights. The same rules that apply to giving testimony or bearing witness also apply in court cases, because they serve the same purpose. (See Al-Durar al-Mukhtaar, 5/237; Al-Hadiyah al-'Alaa'iyah, p. 244; Al-Hadiyah ma'a Takmilat Fath al-Qadeer, 10/26).Thus, like Sultana Freeman, Ginnnah Muhammad was being stricter than is required of her. The judge might have done better to offer a compromise such as allowing her to unveil in private in front of him and a female colleague, or something similar, but he was within his rights to ask her to unveil when giving testimony. Interestingly, Munajjid also says that the rental car company could have asked her to unveil when having financial dealings with her:
It is permitted for a woman to uncover her face and hands when buying or selling, and it is permitted for the vendor to see her face when he hands over the goods and asks for the money, provided that this will not lead to fitnah - otherwise it is forbidden. Ibn Qudaamah said: "If a person deals with a woman when selling or renting, he may look at her face so he knows who she is, and may go back to her when the money is due (a guarantee of the price when the deal is finalized). It was reported that Ahmad said this was makrooh in the case of a young woman, but not in the case of an old woman, and in the case where there is fear of fitnah, or where there is no need for this business deal. But in cases where it is necessary, and there is no wrongful desire, then there is no harm in it." (al-Mughni, 7/459; al-Sharh al-Kabeer 'ala Matan al-Muqni', 7/348 bi Haamish al-Mughni; al-Hidaayah ma'a Takmilat Fath al-Qadeer, 10/24).Update: In an interesting counterpoint to this story, female British lawyers win the right to wear niqab in court.