In December of last year, Raja Naeem, a local Muslim taxi driver, made headlines when he alleged in a lawsuit that the St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission and other officials had repeatedly harassed him and eventually arrested him simply because he wanted to wear his religious garb.
That suit is moving forward, but since it was filed, Naeem and his attorneys say they have received multiple written assurances -- documents on view below -- that he is allowed to wear the religious attire in question.
But the retaliation, they say, has continued.
"This is ongoing harassment that has just not stopped," Drew Baebler, Naeem's attorney, tells Daily RFT. "He continues to wear his Muslim dress even though it comes at a price."
Officials at the commission, however, tell a different story.
"He absolutely has every right in the world to practice his religion," Ronald Klein, director of the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission, tells Daily RFT. "Everybody does."
What's the discrepancy?
At question is his kufi, which is a hat, as well as his kurta, a traditional shirt. At the MTC, cab drivers have a required uniform of a white button down shirt and black trousers.
Naeem and his attorneys say that he has been repeatedly harassed by officials around Lambert airport, culminating in a dramatic arrest last year. Since then, he's filed suit against the city and the MTC.
"He has been pulled over and given tickets...no less than ten times," Baebler says.
But in recent weeks, there have been two significant developments in his ongoing dispute.
First, Naeem received a response from Klein to his official "alternative attire" request.
That March 15 letter, on view below, says:
The Metropolitan Taxicab Commission has determined that it is reasonable to allow alternative attire as follow:
You may wear a kurta, not to exceed thigh length. Any shirt worn, regardless of length, should be white. Any slacks or trousers should be black. The kufi is allowable.
Of note, Klein also says in the letter that he directly met with Naeem's imam with the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis "in order to discuss acceptable dress codes."
Naeem, who had refused to give the MTC his imam's name, was not pleased with this and saw this as an invasion of his privacy and a further form of harassment.
"It made him look, to his religious leader, like they didn't trust him," Baebler says of the MTC meeting with his imam. "He didn't want his religious leader to be harassed, too."
Klein argues that Naeem wasn't being cooperative and that he was just trying to get information so that they could hash out a reasonable attire compromise.
"We are trying to be as fair as we can with him," Klein tells us. "We are surely not trying to discriminate."
Continue for more on Raja Naeem's dispute and full documents in this case.