indica News Bureau-
The US Air Force has updated its dress code policy to outline a clear approval process for Sikhs and Muslims who want to serve while wearing their articles of faith.
Last week the Air force announced about the new update in its regulation.
This is an update to AFI 36-2903, “Dress and personal appearance of Air Force Personnel,” and will allow the headdress to be worn provided it is “neat and conservative” and that the airmen present a professional and well-groomed appearance.
Previously, Sikhs and Muslims serving in the Air Force individually requested religious accommodations that were granted on a case-by-case basis, but the approval process could be lengthy.
“We support these new guidelines as a step toward religious accommodation and inclusion for military personnel of all faiths,” Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council of American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement.
According to the new regulations, the hijab, as well as turbans and under-turbans, should be made of subdued material in a color that resembles or is otherwise close to the airman’s assigned uniform – this could be black, brown, green, tan or navy blue. If the airman is assigned to a unit that wears a beret, the unit commander can order the airman to wear a turban of the same color.
In addition, the hijab and turban must be free of designs and any markings; however the turban could match the Airman Battle Uniform or Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) uniform.
Requests for such an exemption to U.S. Air Force policy will only be denied if the policy “furthers a compelling government interest,” and moreover, if it is the least restrictive way of furthering that interest, the Air Force Times reported.
“I am grateful to hear of this policy change, because it codifies in writing what I already know: The U.S. Air Force values the service and contribution of religious minorities like me,” Singh said in a statement provided by the Sikh Coalition to the Air Force Times. “Accommodations, after all, aren’t about special treatment — they are about ensuring that religiously observant Sikhs and others don’t have to choose between staying true to our faith and serving our country.”
The Sikh Coalition, which is the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the United States, has worked with more than 20 Sikh Americans serving in the military and applauded this decision by the Air Force.
This comes more than 100 years after Bhagat Singh Thind – a Sikh Indian immigrant – who served in the U.S. Army during the First World War and was first member of the U.S. military to be allowed to wear a turban as part of his uniform for religious reasons.
Already, the Air Force has granted airmen permission to wear beards, turbans and hijab for religious reasons, with Staff Sgt. Abdul Rahman Gaitan being the first Muslim to receive a beard waiver in 2018. In June of last year Airman 1st Class Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa became the first active-duty Sikh airman allowed to wear a turban, beard and long hair – the latter tied in a bun and then covered by the turban.
Last year Captain Maysaa Ouza became the first Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps officer to wear a hijab, the head covering worn in public by some Muslim women. Ouza, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, was featured in an NBC documentary, and in it she described her efforts to seek a religious accommodation to wear the hijab when she entered the competitive process to become a JAG officer.
“We support these new guidelines as a step toward religious accommodation and inclusion for military personnel of all faiths,” said Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper via a statement. “Thousands of American Muslims and members of other minority faiths serve in our nation’s military and should be able to practice their faith while serving.”
It isn’t just those of Sikh or Muslim faith that have applied for the religious exemptions. There have been at least two airmen who reportedly follow the Norse Heathen, or pagan faiths, and were granted permission to wear a beard.
Finally, an airman could be ordered to remove a turban if he goes within 25 feet of an operating aircraft.
According to CNN, certain advocacy groups say this is just one step in a series of many that need to occur in order to achieve equality.
SAVA President Kamal Singh Kalsi said that the U.S. Department of Defense should expand the policy to apply across all branches of the military.
“The Department of Defense should have a consistent and department wide policy on religious accommodation,” Kalsi said. “Those who are committed and qualified to serve our country in uniform should be able to do so in a more streamlined and efficient manner.”
Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for CAIR, said, “We support these new guidelines as a step toward religious accommodation and inclusion for military personnel of all faiths.”
Giselle Klapper, staff attorney for the Sikh Coalition, announced that the new update is a “great step forward” in “ensuring equality.”
“Sikhs have served honorably and capably in the U.S. Armed Forces and other militaries around the world, and while we are eager for a blanket proclamation that all observant Sikh Americans can serve in every branch of the military without seeking accommodations, this policy clarification is a great step forward towards ensuring equality of opportunity and religious freedom in the Air Force,” Klapper said.