Is it allowed to wear Islamic clothing in an ID photo?

Hijab in Photo ID
Can a Muslim woman wear hijab in photo ID?. Getty Images / Juanmonino

Question

Am I allowed to wear Islamic clothing when having ID photos taken?

Muslims are sometimes denied the right to have ID photos taken while wearing Islamic clothing, such as hijab. What are the rules?

Answer

In the United States, the First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees a person's right to freely practice the religion of his or her choice. For Muslims, this choice often includes a certain standard of modest dress and common religious clothing.

Such a clearly-stated freedom may not be violated except for a greater public good.

Some people insist that ID photographs, for the safety and protection of everyone, must show a person's complete head and face, including the hair. They hold that all headcoverings of any type must be removed for the photo. However, several government agencies have made exceptions to this rule in the case of religious headwear.

U.S. Passport Photos

The U.S. State Department, for example, gives explicit guidelines for U.S. passport photographs:

Can hats or religious headgear be worn for the photo? Do not wear a hat or head covering that obscures the hair or hairline, unless worn daily for a religious purpose. Your full face must be visible, and the head covering must not cast any shadows on your face.

In this case, it is acceptable for the hair to be covered, as long as the full face is visible. Under no circumstances are face veils (niqab) allowed to be worn in U.S. passport photos.

Driver License & State ID

Each individual U.S. state implements its own rules with regards to driver licenses and other state ID documents. In many places, an exception is made for religious headwear as long as the person's face is clearly visible, in line with the State Department guidelines above. In some states, this is written into state law, whereas in others it's an agency policy.

A few states allow a no-photo ID card in certain circumstances, or provide other accommodation. If there is a question about a particular state's rules, one should consult the DMV head office and seek the decision in writing.

Face Veils (Niqab)

With regard to face veils, virtually all photo IDs require the face to be shown for identity purposes. In a 2002-03 case in Florida, a Muslim woman petitioned for the right to wear a face veil in a driver license photo, in accordance with her interpretation of the Islamic dress requirements. According to BBC News and other sources, the Florida court denied her claim. The judge supported the DMV's opinion that if she wanted a driver license, a brief removal of her face veil for an identity photograph was not an unreasonable request and therefore did not violate her religious rights. Similar cases have resulted in the same ruling in other states. A fully veiled woman may be able to request that the photo be taken in private, if the office setup allows.