Fatima Isaacs Photo: Dominic Adriaanse
Fatima Isaacs Photo: Dominic Adriaanse

Long-serving SANDF major facing dismissal for wearing hijab

By Dominic Adriaanse Time of article published Jun 26, 2019

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Cape Town – The SANDF had infringed on the constitutional rights of one of its employees by charging her with “disobeying a lawful command” after she refused to remove her hijab, the woman’s legal adviser said.

Major Fatima Isaacs, 47, a forensic pathologist at 2 Military Hospital in Wynberg, has worked in the force for the past 10 years and argued the scarf did not obstruct any military rankings or insignia, as she wore it under her formal military beret.

Isaacs now faces dismissal after being charged by the SANDF. The move has been met with outrage.

Isaacs appeared before the Court of Military Justice at the Castle of Good Hope yesterday, where her case was postponed until August.

SANDF spokesperson Mafi Mgobhozi said: “The SANDF can confirm that a female member, Major Fatima Isaacs, working at 2 Military Hospital in Wynberg, appeared before the Court of Military Justice at the Castle of Good Hope for her wilful defiance, and disobeying a lawful command.”

Labour specialist Nazeema Mohamed, who is legally advising Isaacs during her hearing, said the military was ignoring the Bill of Rights. 

Mohamed said Isaacs had previously requested permission to wear her headscarf and other senior officers had given their consent.

Yesterday’s hearing, which was closed to the public, lasted about 20 minutes, and had involved Isaacs being informed of her legal rights.

“The major has previously requested permission to wear her headscarf and other senior officers had given consent. (One) colonel had continuously refused her request until he served her with a final written warning for repeatedly disobeying a lawful instruction. 

"She then laid a grievance, which he ignored, and then informed her that he was taking the matter further. This means she has to appear before the court on the charge,” said Mohamed.

Isaacs had received a final warning in February and was eventually charged last week. Isaacs will return to her duties pending the outcome of the disciplinary hearing.

Outraged by the charge against Isaacs, members of the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) Women’s Forum yesterday rallied at the Castle of Good Hope to support Isaacs. The forum’s chairperson, Mualima Khadija Patel-Allie, said the issue was concerning.

“We live in democratic country, and we are finding ourselves in a position where one of our sisters is being denied a religious and democratic right. 

"This is of great importance to us, part of who we are and is a representation of what it means to be a Muslim woman. Our scarf is integral to our code of living,” she said.

According to Mahomed, a legal precedent had been set in relation to wearing a hijab at the workplace. Mahomed said in 2006. Fairouz Adams, a social worker at a Worcester prison, was axed by her bosses for wearing a headscarf to work.

Adams had at the time refused to tuck in her shirt, arguing that for religious reasons, Muslim women were required to cover their hair and dress modestly. An out-of-court settlement was reached between the Department of Correctional Services and the MJC.

In terms of the settlement, Adams and the MJC were to make representations to Correctional Services as to how it could amend its dress code.

Cape Times

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