South Africa’s army permits hijab for Muslim women under revised uniform policy

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Johannesburg

The South African army has permitted Muslim women to wear hijab, or headscarves, as part of their official uniform under its revised uniform policy, a spokesperson confirmed on Thursday, after one of the officers took the military and regulations restricting religious wear to the country’s equality court.

The South African Defence Force (SANDF) agreed to amend its policy earlier this week, allowing any Muslim women who chose to cover their heads while on duty to do so without repercussions.

In January last year, a military court dropped charges against Major Fatima Isaacs, an officer who had been indicted for wearing a hijab under her military beret.
“The Military Court withdrew charges against Major Isaacs. She is allowed to wear her head wrap subject to certain restrictions,” says the Legal Resources Centre.

Major Isaacs was criminally charged in June 2018 with failing to obey lawful instructions and wilful defiance after her superior asked her to remove her headscarf when in uniform.
In a statement, the South Africa-based Legal Resources Centre, which represented Isaacs, said the officer had been “criminally charged with three counts of contravening section 19(1) of the Military Discipline Code: disobeying lawful commands or orders”.

A military court at the Castle of Good Hope near Cape Town withdrew all charges in January 2020, allowing Isaacs to exceptionally wear a tight black head wrap on duty as long as it did not cover her ears.

However, the South African army did not amend its dress policy — officially known as the “Amendment No 5: Wearing of Religious and Medical Adornments by SANDF Members in Uniform (2002) (Religious Dress Policy)” — prompting Isaacs to mount a challenge in South Africa’s equality court.—AFP