Voice of the Cape

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Defence minister urged to intervene in headscarf case

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The South African Muslim Network (SAMNET) has thrown its weight behind Major Fatima Isaacs quest to wear her headscarf while serving in the military. Isaacs is facing a dismissal and will appear in a military court next month on charges of “willful defiance and disobeying a lawful command” for her refusal to remove her scarf, which she wears tightly tucked under her military beret. There’s been widespread public support for Major Isaacs and subsequently, more Muslim women in the SANDF have spoken out against the climate of intolerance and bigotry with the military.

This week SAMNET wrote a letter to Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula expressing its disappointment at the way in which officers are treated for practising certain aspects of their religion. In the letter, the advocacy group said it objected to the “unconstitutional manner” in which the SANDF has dealt with Major Fatima Isaacs regarding her objection to removing her headscarf.

“Her headscarf does not interfere with her duties, nor the military uniform. Major Isaacs being charged by the military brass for wearing the headscarf is clearly discriminatory against the spirit and letter of the Constitution, Ubuntu and our inclusive and multi-plural society,” said SAMNET chairperson Dr Faisal Suliman.

The organisation said given the diversity with the SANDF, there would be an ethos of respect for people of all faiths and cultures.

“SANDF deploys all over Africa much of which has people of the Islamic faith. The action against Major Isaacs sends a completely wrong message to all our people and of all SANDF members that discrimination against Muslims is acceptable. It also does not bode well for joint cooperation with other African countries and for peacekeeping missions,” wrote Dr Suliman.

“Chapter 2 of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights clearly permits religious rights to be practiced and respected. As it stands, the policies and regulations of SANDF that prohibit its officers from exercising their religious freedom is unconstitutional and must be amended.”

Suliman argued that must be requisite changes are urgently needed to revise the dress code and to allow Muslim officers to practice their religion freely. VOC


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