SANDF headscarf case: Muslim major may get interim relief as policy talks continue

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Major Fatima Isaacs (File, Netwerk24)
Major Fatima Isaacs (File, Netwerk24)

A determination is under consideration to allow female Muslim members of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to wear headscarves under their berets while the dress code policy is revisited, it emerged on Thursday.

This possible interim relief, which is yet to be approved by the SANDF chief, was mentioned in a joint briefing by the military and the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) in Cape Town.

"The parties have resolved to continue to work together to find a solution which will address and resolve the issues related to this matter," said SANDF chaplain general, Brigadier General Monwabisi Jamangile, after an agreement to work together was signed on Thursday.

The MJC, SANDF and legal representatives held talks on Tuesday to discuss the situation of Major Fatima Isaacs, who faces a military court hearing for her refusal to remove her headscarf, also known as a hijab.

She was formally charged for "disobeying a direct command" and was due to face a senior military judge for her full case in August.

The parties said the talks were "amicable and constructive" and the SANDF made a commitment to address the headscarf issue in their policies within a set time frame.

"The SANDF has categorically declared that Islamophobia and discrimination has no place in the SANDF, since it is representative of all peoples of our rainbow nation," the joint statement read.

The MJC first deputy president Moulana Abdul Khaliq Ebrahim said they were happy that all the parties were working out a pathway for the future.

Second deputy president Shaykh Riad Fataar added his appreciation for the issue not being brushed aside.

"We don't expect the military to be soft and easy, we expect them to be tough. But we also expect justice," he said.

ALSO READ: Muslim major to face disciplinary action for refusing to discard headscarf

On Wednesday, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula had requested that an "amicable solution" be found.

Isaacs' lawyer Igshaan Higgins told News24 last week that he had hoped for "ministerial intervention" and that the matter be resolved amicably among the parties.

Last month, the SANDF had said in a statement that all members of all religions were expected to abide by its dress code, but that will now be addressed as the policy talks continue.

The major, who has been a member of the armed forces for 10 years, and works as a clinical forensic pathologist at 2 Military Hospital in Wynberg, is still expected to appear before the military court at the Castle of Good Hope on August 7.

Isaacs' legal advisor Nazeema Mohamed said they had tried to have the charges withdrawn, but also understood it was a separate legal process that had to be followed.

"We are going to be writing to the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority) after she appears on the 7th... providing them with a copy of the agreement that has just been signed, authorising interim permission to don the headscarf, and on that basis they don't have a prima facie case against her."

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