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South African Defense Major Allowed to Don Hijab

Muslim women wearing hijab always face the challenge of wearing it to work.

The situation in the army and police forces is even more difficult.

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With many Muslim women joining the police and army forces across the world, the challenge of allowing hijab to be part of the uniform is a growing one.

A South African Muslim major, Fatima Isaacs, has just won the right to don hijab under her uniform beret with a condition she abides with the defense restrictions.

“It is not only a win for Muslims and Muslim women but it’s a win for South Africa,” said Labour expert Nazeema Mohammed, who has been assisting Isaacs with her case, reported.

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“It’s a win against discrimination and a win about the rights we struggled for that can so easily be stomped on by the state which is supposed to protect those rights.”

Isaacs has been facing charges for willfully disobeying a lawful order to take off her hijab worn under her uniform.

In the court proceedings at the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town on Wednesday, South African National Defence Force (SANDF) withdrew its charges against Isaacs.


The ruling caused relief, allowing the Muslim woman to continue wearing the hijab until a final ruling was made in the matter. 

Isaac’s Lawyer, Amy Leigh-Payne of the Legal Resources Centre said: “We are now going to the Equality Court for an application to challenge the policy because as it stands, if at a later stage she fails to observe the restrictions for whatever reason, she could be charged again.

“We consider this only a partial victory because the charges have now been dropped but we are proceeding with our challenge,” Leigh-Payne added.

Major Fatima Isaacs and Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi in conversation outside the military court in Cape Town on Wednesday. (Kamva Somdyala, News24).
Major Fatima Isaacs and Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi in conversation outside the military court in Cape Town on Wednesday. (Kamva Somdyala, News24).

Hijab in Service

Based on Pew’s 2010 report, Muslims accounted for 1.5% of the South African population, with the Muslim community comprising mainly those who are described as Coloreds and Asians.

There are other several cases where Muslim female cops have succeeded in accessing their right to wear hijab.

In November 2019, a Trinidad Muslim special reserve police officer was awarded $185,000 in compensation for being subjected to a discriminatory policy that banned her from wearing hijab on duty.

In 2016, Turkey allowed female police officers to don the hijab.

The move followed an earlier announcement by Police Scotland which declared hijab an optional part of its uniform to encourage more female Muslims to consider policing as a career option.

Similarly in Canada, the government announced in 2016 that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would allow its officers to wear hijab as part of their uniforms, in the hope of boosting the number of female Muslim recruits.