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Two years of engagement with SANDF on headscarf issue fruitless: MJC

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The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) has expressed its unequivocal support for Major Fatima Isaacs in her right to wear the headscarf as part of her military uniform. On Tuesday, Isaacs appeared in a military court in Cape Town and was charged with disobeying a lawful instruction after she refused to remove her scarf, following numerous requests by her ranking officer. Isaacs has waged this struggle within the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) over the past decade and two years ago, she approached the MJC for assistance.

Speaking to VOC on Tuesday, MJC secretary general Shaykh Isgaak Taliep said they have been in regular contact with her over the past two years and are fully aware of her “frustration” on this matter.

“As the discrimination increased under her seniors at the SANDF, she kept us abreast. Her journey has been a long one,” said Taliep.

Isaacs works as a forensic pathologist at 2 Wynberg military hospital and been in the employ of the SANDF for ten years. One photo of Isaacs, which VOC News has seen, shows that her scarf does not obstruct any military rankings or insignia and is tucked neatly under her formal military beret, so her neck is open.

The MJC leadership has engaged with senior ranking officials in the SANDF on the issue and according to Taliep, has written strongly worded letters.

“We explained the Islamic position with regards to hijab and her constitutional rights to practise her religion as freely as needed.  We entered discussions with officials in high ranking positions and looked at what kind of scarves can work. We believe sister Fatima has been more than accommodating and has been trying to meet them halfway.”

Taliep said to date, the ulema body has yet to receive a response from the SANDF. The MJC meets bi-annually with the chaplaincy of the SANDF and would use these meetings to raise issues affecting Muslim members of the army.

“When we meet with them, the SANDF officials are open to working on this issue. But it doesn’t seem to be filtering down to the seniors in the ranks,” said Taliep.

“Many of the rules and regulations that exist in the SANDF come from the apartheid era. They need to be reviewed as they are not in line with the Constitution.”

Meanwhile, Shaykh Muneer Abduraouf, a new commissioner with the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL), said the right to wear the headscarf is a religious freedom enshrined in the Constitution.

“If the disciplinary action is based on the headscarf, then it should be challenged. I believe the CRL commission would support this.”

Major Isaacs’s disciplinary hearing has been postponed until the 7th August

Taliep said they would continue to support Isaacs through legal action. VOC

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