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February 15, 2020

Hijabs, beards, turbans allowed in US Air Force

Top Story

February 15, 2020

WASHINGTON: The US Air Force has formalized rules that allow airmen to ask for a religious exemption to wear turbans, hijabs and bears while in uniform, foreign media reported on Friday.In new guidelines issued last Friday by the secretary of the Air Force, the service branch outlined rules for wearing religious head gear and beards in a 'in a neat and conservative manner.' The Air Force has previously granted religious exemptions on a case-by-case basis. The Army in 2017 released guidelines that similarly clarified the terms and process for requesting religious accommodations for soldiers.

In 2018, Staff Sgt. Abdul Rahman Gaitan in 2018 became the first Muslim airman to receive a beard waiver from the for religious reasons, according to Air Force Times.

Last year, Airman Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa, a practicing Sikh and crew chief at the McChord Air Force Base, became the first Air Force member to get an exemption to wear a turban on duty.

Capt. Maysaa Ouza, the first Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps officer to wear the hijab, was also featured in a short NBC documentary last year.

The new Air Force guidelines state that turbans and hijabs must be in subdued colors that closely resemble the assigned uniform, and have no patterns unless they are made in a camouflage pattern matching the uniform.+4

Beards must be maintained to a length not exceeding two inches from the bottom of the chin, according to the new guidelines.

Mustaches must be trimmed so as not to cover the upper lip, the guidelines state.

Airmen are required to wear their turbans, hijabs and beards in a 'manner that presents a professional and well-groomed appearance,' the guidelines state.

'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,' Airman 1st Class Gurchetan Singh said in a statement to 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.'

Sikh and Muslim advocacy organisations said the move was a significant step toward inclusion, though some said that the military needs to go further.

“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.

Both the Sikh Coalition and the Sikh American Veterans Alliance (SAVA) have called on the US military to allow religious minorities to serve without exception.