Muslim major takes on SANDF over headscarf
A Muslim member of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) who refused to remove her headscarf, is expected to face a disciplinary hearing on 7 August, her lawyer said. ‘At that disciplinary hearing, she will be allowed to bring legal counsel,’ Nazeema Mohamed reportedly told News24.
Mohamed said Major Fatima Isaacs appeared before a military court yesterday and that the matter was postponed. The major has been a member of the armed forces for 10 years and works as a clinical forensic pathologist at 2 Military Hospital in Wynberg.
News24 previously reported that Mohamed said the SANDF's action was ‘Islamophobic, sexist and showed a poor attitude towards women’.
According to Mohamed, the headscarf did not obstruct any insignia or military rankings and for the past decade, none of the officers she reported to took exception to it.
Should the SANDF proceed with charges against the major, they would take the matter to court as the action against her was discriminatory, Mohamed said.
Another major, Simo Mbete, based in Port Elizabeth, said he was told to take off his taqiyah (skull cap) during a morning roll call in October last year. He said he has never had any problems in the past, having converted to the Muslim faith in 2016.
After refusing to take it off, his case was taken to the Military Court where he was found guilty of disobeying a lawful command. He was fined and had to spend three months in the military barracks.
He said he would appeal.
Mohamed said the Muslim Judicial Council has provided Isaacs with resources to set up a legal challenge. ‘The Constitution and the Bill of Rights apply to the SANDF too, and they must not forget that,’
Mohamed is quoted as saying in a Cape Argus report. Michael Swain, executive director of Freedom of Religion South Africa said: ‘The SANDF’s refusal to allow the Muslim woman major to wear her headscarf may well violate her right to religious freedom. In the Pillay case in 2007 (involving a Hindu pupil’s right to wear a nose stud as an expression of her faith), the Constitutional Court found the school had a duty to accommodate her religious beliefs insofar as they did not impose an undue burden on the school and despite the fact wearing the stud infringed the school’s uniform policy regarding jewellery. On this basis, it is arguable that the SANDF has a duty to accommodate the Muslim major’s religious beliefs.’
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