Major Fatima Isaacs appeared before the Court of Military Justice at the Castle of Good Hope on Wednesday morning. Photo: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town – Long-serving SANDF Major Fatima Isaacs appeared before the Court of Military Justice at the Castle of Good Hope on Wednesday morning to receive the official charges against her.

Isaacs, 47, faces dismissal for “disobeying a lawful command” after she refused to remove her hijab.

A forensic pathologist at 2 Military Hospital in Wynberg, who has served the SANDF for 10 years, Isaacs was supported by family and her labour law specialist, Nazeema Mohamed, and her legal advisers Igshaan Higgins and Rosaline Nyman.

Higgins said Isaacs would be appearing before a tribunal and formally given the order to remove her headscarf.

“This is part of the process, the major has the right to know what the accuser is saying and then sign (an acknowledgment) that she received the charges. 

"Once she understands that, we as her lawyers can take proper instruction and prepare for the hearing,” he said.

Higgins said it was a constitutional matter and should it reach its natural conclusion, it could potentially result in reform within SANDF policy. The case was postponed until next month.

Mohamed earlier told the Cape Times the SANDF had infringed on Isaac's constitutional rights by charging her with “disobeying a lawful command” after she refused to remove her hijab.

Isaacs has argued that the scarf did not obstruct any military rankings or insignia, as she wore it under her formal military beret.

“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. Isaacs will return to her duties pending the outcome of the disciplinary hearing.

Outraged by the charge against Isaacs, Muslim Judicial Council's (MJC) Women’s Forum chairperson, Mualima Khadija Patel-Allie, said last month: “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."

According to Mohamed, a legal precedent had been set in relation to wearing a hijab at the workplace. Mohamed 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.

Isaacs and the MJC said last week they would lodge a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.

Cape Times