India

Muslims can't grow beards in IAF

16 Dec 2016 | By Supriya

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a Muslim cannot grow a beard after joining the Indian Air Force.

The court said that in the armed forces religious beliefs could not supercede discipline, cohesiveness and uniformity.

Further, the bench added that defence forces needed to maintain a secular character and rules on personal appearance were not meant to discriminate against anyone's religious beliefs.

In context: Apex court's ruling on beards in IAF

BackgroundMuslim IAF officials case

Ansari Ahmed, IAF airman grew a beard without commanding officer's permission and refused to shave even after being warned of disciplinary proceedings; Mohammed Zubair, IAF airman, grew a beard despite being denied permission.

IAF policy clearly stated that only Muslim personnel who had a beard and moustache at time of commissioning on Jan 1, 2002, would be allowed to keep them.

IAF officials dimissed

Ansari Ahmed was dismissed from Indian Air Force in 2008. He filed a petition seeking equality with Sikhs to grow a beard. Mohammed Zubair was also dismissed and he filed a petition claiming his "fundamental right to religion."
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16 Dec 2016Muslims can't grow beards in IAF

Beards not mandatory

Supreme Court: "All Muslims don't carry beard. The practice of growing and keeping beard is optional and sporting a beard is not universally recognized in Islam. Therefore, it cannot be said that Islam prohibits cutting of hair or shaving of face of its member."

Key observationsSupreme Court judgment

SC said growing or keeping a beard was not a fundamental tenet of Islam.

The court essentially upheld existing government policy that personnel belonging to the Muslim community would not be allowed to grow a beard after having joined the Indian Air Force.

The court dismissed plea of two Muslim IAF officials who wanted the policy squashed so they could sport beards.

Sikhs an exception

The government policy of 2003 does allow Sikhs to keep "unshorn hair, beard and a turban" given that shaving or cutting hair is prohibited under Sikhism. All others need to obtain permission to grow a beard.