29 November 2023

By Al Qalam Reporter

The Review Network (MRN) has heaped praise on SA’s armed forces for “respecting the religious freedoms of all South Africans” after it dropped charges against a Muslim woman for wearing hijab while on duty. Major Fatima Isaacs, who works as a clinical forensic pathologist at 2 Military Hospitals in Wynburg, Cape Town, was charged with willful defiance and disobeying a lawful command. She was hauled over the coals for wearing a headscarf under her beret. She has been a member of the armed forces for more than a decade. After months of deliberations, the SANDF tribunal decided to drop charges against her, saying she can continue wearing her headscarf under certain conditions. It stipulated that this will be allowed as long as she “complies with the restrictions, which is that she needs to wear a tight headdress that does not cover her ears and that it needs to be plain in colour.” Ibrahim Vawda, spokesman for the Media Review Network (MRN) said: The MRN views this decision by the SANDF as a victory not only for Muslim women but for all women who want to uphold their constitutional rights to religious freedom, he said. He also commended the SANDF on its stance. “The SANDF must be commended for its principled stance on respecting the religious freedoms of all South Africans, which is entrenched in our constitution. “The wearing of the Islamic dress code for women is not a form of ‘imprisonment’. It is neither oppressive, nor is it forced upon them. On the contrary, if you consider the liberal society around us; its values, aspirations, goals and its past-times, the forms of psychological imprisonment, enslavement, slavery and mental entrapment need to be revisited and examined.” Meanwhile Dr Faizel Suleman, chairperson of the South African Media Network which campaigned solidly for the constitutional and religious rights of Major Isaacs, told Al Qalam he was pleased with the outcome. SAMNET had repeatedly written to the Minister of Defence and the Chief of the Army to respect Major Isaacs’ religious and constitutional rights to wear a headscarf. The Human Rights Body had also launched a robust campaign on all social media platforms calling for fairness. “We note with pleasure the withdrawal on these charges and the SANDF needs to come out with a definitive statement recognizing the rights of religious groups to practice their faith within the SANDF to the extent that these practices do not interfere with their duties,” Dr Suleman said.

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