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South Africa’s Military Allows Hijab for Muslims

In what is described as a groundbreaking decision and a breakthrough for many Muslims in the military, South African Muslim major, Fatima Isaacs, has won the right to don hijab with uniform.

“I am happy with the successful outcome of the case, I am grateful to my legal team for assisting me,” Isaacs told Cape Times, reported.

“We are living in a democratic country which means that there should be no discrimination with regards to religious beliefs. I believe religion is the foundation of a moral state/country. This is an important victory,” she said.

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The decision followed the three-year- battle of Isaacs, a Muslim woman who wore hijab covering her hair and head under her military beret in accordance with her religious beliefs since she officially joined the force in February 2010.

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In June 2018, she was told that her hijab was contrary to the South African Defence Force (SANDF) dress policy, and this led to charging her with three counts of contravening section 19(1) of the Military Discipline Code.

Though the military court withdrew its charges against her in January last year, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) representing Isaacs then turned to the Equality Court to challenge the Military’s Religious Dress Code Policy, which was still being enforced.

“We have since been engaged in discussions with the SANDF and as a result, the SANDF has amended their policy to allow Muslim women to wear their hijab with their military uniform,” the LRC said in a statement yesterday.

“We have therefore filed a Notice of Withdrawal in the Equality Court and will not be pursuing this matter further as the policy no longer discriminates against Muslim women in the military.”

The Muslim Judicial Council SA (MJC) also welcomed the decision to allow hijab.

“The MJC in its capacity as the Religious Advisory Board for Muslims in the SANDF had meaningful engagements with senior members of the SANDF Chaplaincy regarding the case of Major Fatima and was confident that the matter would be resolved amicably.

“We salute Major Fatima Isaacs for her steadfastness to secure this outcome for all Muslim women serving the SANDF,” first deputy president Abdul Khaliq Allie said.

Hijab in Service

Based on Pew’s 2010 report, Muslims account 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 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.