IAF officers can't grow beard': SC rejects Muslim man's plea against rule

The bench clarified that rules barring soldiers from sporting beards does not interfere with their religious freedom.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday said officers of Indian Air Force can't grow beard citing religious reasons while dismissing a Muslim man’s plea against his sacking for keeping a long beard.

The bench of judges headed by Justice TS Thakur clarified, that the regulations that bar the soldiers from sporting beards does not interfere with their religious freedom, rather ensures discipline.

Ansari Aftab Ahmed had petitioned against the decision of his service being terminated, asserting that keeping a beard is the fundamental right pertaining to an individual's religious freedom, just like the Sikhs are allowed the turban and to never have a haircut. Ahmed's advocate Irshad Hanif had urged the court to fix a date of final hearing on a batch of petitions filed by the Muslim personnel who faced actions for having beards.

Ansari was discharged in 2008. His petition was still pending before court. The court issued notices to the government and the Indian Air force in 2008, to which the IAF replied: "All Muslims do not carry beard. The practice of growing and keeping beard is optional and sporting a beard is not universally recognised in the religion of Islam. Therefore, it cannot be said that Muslim religion prohibits the cutting of hair or shaving of the face of its member."

AK Antony, the then Minister of Defence, said the army did not want its Muslim personnel to suffer. His ministry issued a directive to not act against Muslim soldier for sporting beards. However, the order was backtracked in October 2009 and said that the petitions by Muslim personnel would be contested.

The court listed the case for final hearing, while Ansari sought an urgent solution to the issue.

Currently, the ministry's policy of "hair, beard and wearing turbans" says, "Only those Muslim personnel, who had kept beard along with moustache at the time of commissioning enrolment prior to 01 Jan 2002, would be allowed to keep beard and moustache…Muslims who have grown beard after joining service should shave off the beard. Under no circumstances, a Muslim person who had beard at the time of joining service before 1 Jan 2002 shall be allowed to maintain beard without moustache. Moustache would be a part of the beard.”

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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