The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) has announced that there will be interim relief for Muslim women to wear the headscarf while serving in the military. This follows a marathon discussion between the two parties on Tuesday, to resolve the fracas around Cape Town SANDF member Major Fatima Isaacs and the modest dress code for Muslim females serving in the military. Major Fatima Isaacs, a forensic pathologist at the 2 Military Hospital faces disciplinary action for refusing to obey a “lawful instruction” to remove her headscarf, which she wears inconspicuously under her military beret.
Addressing journalists at the Castle of Good Hope, SANDF Chaplain General, Monwabisi Andrew Jamangile said the SANDF is now in the process of finalising a decision to allow Muslim women to wear an “underscarf” in conformity with the military dress code, while the process of shaping the policy is underway. The policy will be concluded within a set time frame, to be determined by the minister.
In a joint statement on Thursday, the SANDF and MJC said they have resolved to continue to work together to find a solution to the matter. They described the talks as “amicable” and “constructive”.
“The SANDF has committed itself to ensure that the issue of Muslim women wearing the headscarf and related matters be addressed in their policies,” said SANDF Chaplain General, Monwabisi Andrew Jamangile.
Major Fatima Isaacs has served in the defence force for the past 10 years and is passionate about serving her country, without compromising her religious obligations. She believes in her right to freedom of religion as entrenched in the South African Bill of Rights. Over the past ten years, that right has been infringed upon by SANDF seniors who has denied her requests to wear a headscarf under her beret.
According to both parties, the issue of discrimination and Islamophobia were openly discussed. The SANDF has categorically declared that there is no place for Islamophobia and discrimination in the military as it “it is representative of all people of our rainbow nation”.
The MJC leadership, the SANDF and the legal counsel for Major Fatima Isaacs, Nazeema Mohamed and Igshaan Higgins expressed their appreciation for the “constructive and matured manner” in which the parties engaged, concluding that it was a “learning opportunity”.