New Delhi, December 15: The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered that Muslim personnel in the Air Force will not be able to sport a beard during the tenure of their service. While rejecting the plea of a Muslim Air Force official Ansari Aftab Ahmed, Chief Justice of India T S Thakur said that regulations do not interfere with religious rights of individuals and that they have the sanctity of ensuring discipline.
Ansari had argued that sporting beard was part of his fundamental right to freedom of religion. He cited examples of Sikh personnel and sought equality with them. Sikhs are allowed to sport long hair, turban and beard.
Responding to the notice issued in the matter, the Indian Air Force told the Supreme Court, "All Muslims do not carry beard. The practice of growing and keeping beard is optional and sporting a beard is not universally recognized in the religion of Islam."
"It cannot be said that Muslim religion prohibits the cutting of hair or shaving of the face of its member," the IAF contended. Many Muslims in India have been asking for relaxation of uniform rules to be allowed to keep beards in line with their religious counterparts in the Middle East. Some exceptions are given in case of religious minorities, including Sikhs, who hold religious beliefs that they must not cut their hair. Sikhs in the Indian Army are allowed to keep a beard and have long hair, which is kept in place by their turban.
Ansari was discharged from service by IAF in October 2008 while his petition was still pending before the top court. The court had issued notices to the government and the IAF in 2008.
In the same year, two more petitions were filed on the issue — one by a fellow IAF personnel and another by a Maharashtra policeman.
In its response, the IAF told the court: “All Muslims do not carry beard. The practice of growing and keeping beard is optional and sporting a beard is not universally recognized 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.”
The defense ministry’s policy of “hair, beard and wearing turbans” as notified in 2003 is in force. It 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.” The two previous regulations were issued in 1980 and 1999.