By Anees Teladia
Major Fatima Isaacs intends to lodge a formal complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) regarding allegations of discrimination within the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The Muslim SANDF member is charged with disobeying a lawful instruction due to her refusal to remove her scarf and is set to appear in military court next month. A team comprising of her advisor and spokesperson, Nazeema Mohamed, her advocate, the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) and attorney Igshaan Higgins is set to tackle the case head on.
The MJC Women’s Forum has publicly declared its unwavering support for Major Isaacs, stating that the entire issue is an “infringement on our rights as Muslim women.”
“We understand that we have a sister in the military who has now found herself brought up on charges because of wearing a headscarf. It’s an extremely disturbing situation for Muslim women and for our Muslim community,” said Mualima Khadija Patel-Allie, head of the MJC Women’s Forum.
“It’s essential that we ensure that we take this up properly. This is not only a matter of freedom of religion – it is also [a matter of] the right to human dignity. There are a lot of issues encompassed in this specific matter and as Muslim women and the MJC Women’s Forum, we are behind Major Fatima Isaacs. We will stand with her through this because it is an infringement on our rights as Muslim women.”
Mualima Patel-Allie added, “She’s such a dignified sister. She is resolved in her approach and to taking this road and furthering the matter. She has wonderful support behind her in her advisory and in the women who are supporting her.”
Mualima Patel-Allie also indicated that such a blatant case of unfair discrimination within the SANDF, or within any other state institution, would neither be tolerated nor accepted in a democratic South Africa – a country rich in diversity and still plagued by the effects of the discriminatory and oppressive Apartheid regime and its security forces.
“For us, as a democratic country, it is essential that we rally behind her. There should be loud outcry to say that this will never be accepted in South Africa,” said Mualima Patel-Allie.
“This kind of unfair discriminatory action by an authority such as the SANDF against a Muslim woman will not be tolerated by our communities. When you take issue with the headscarf of a Muslim woman, it is tantamount to taking issue with her fundamental right to practice her religion freely.
You are looking at the very foundation of women when an issue like this is taken up. The SANDF has placed the women of the Muslim community and the Muslim community as a whole, against them.”
Higgins thanked Major Isaacs for her determination in standing up not only for her rights but for the rights of all who face similar cases of unfair discrimination. He also indicated that the complaint to be filed with the SAHRC would have Major Isaacs as the first applicant in the matter and the Muslim Judicial Council SA, as the second.
It was revealed that due to the magnitude and publicity of the case, there will most likely be lawyers attempting to hijack the entire matter for their own gain.
“The broader strategy is to lodge a complaint at the SAHRC, with Major Fatima Isaacs being the first applicant and the MJC SA being the second. At the same time, we are getting support from the entire religious community and NGO’s,” said Higgins.
“Legal representation has now been established…the person that we need to support and focus on, is Major Fatima Isaacs”
Higgins added that labour expert, Nazeema Mohamed has been the key link between the MJC and Major Isaacs. Mohamed has been credited with consolidating the much-needed publicity in the matter up until this point and will remain as Major Isaacs’ spokesperson and adviser.
“This is South Africa. We fought very hard to get to where we are. We will not tolerate bigotry or oppression in any form.”