US Air Force updates dress code policy to include turbans, hijabs, and beards

US Air Force updates dress code policy to include turbans, hijabs, and beards

The US Air Force has announced that it has updated its dress code policy to outline a clear approval process for Sikhs and Muslims who wish to serve while wearing garments and articles of their respective faiths, CNN has reported.

The new guidelines, which were finalized last week, mean that both Muslims and Sikhs can seek a religious accommodation to wear turbans, hijabs, beards, and unshorn hair and expect to be approved as long as their appearance is "neat and conservative". Only under extremely limited circumstances can they be rejected, such as if it "furthers a compelling governmental interest".

The Air Force released an official update to the 'Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel' code (AFI 36-2903) on February 7, permitting airmen to request a waiver to wear religious apparel while in uniform, Fox News reports.

Meet Capt. Maysaa Ouza, the first Air Force JAG Corps officer allowed to wear a hijab while in uniform:

The guidelines state that the material used for headwear must resemble the color of the assigned uniform and must present a "professional and well-groomed appearance". This code will now include hijabs, beards, turban or under-turban/patka, and indoor/outdoor head coverings.

With regard to unshorn beards, members must "roll" or "tie" the beard if it exceeds two inches in length.

The new guidelines also state that the final review for the accommodation must take place within 30 days for cases in the United States, and 60 days for all other cases. In most cases, the religious accommodation will follow the airmen throughout their careers in the US Airforce.

Special requests to observe religious practices have been approved in the past, but they were granted on a case-by-case and the approval process would be lengthy.

Writing on Facebook in December of last year, Maysaa Ouza, the chief of legal assistance at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. and the first Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps officer to wear hijab, said: 

"I was honored to witness the swearing in of 2d Lt Saleha Jabeen, the first female Muslim Chaplain Candidate in the Air Force and the Department of Defense. I am immensely proud of you my dear sister and friend. ⁣⁣

"I’ve been in the Air Force for a little under two years now, and up until recently, I haven’t seen anyone that looks like me in the workplace (besides on social media). ⁣⁣

"My entire world lit up when I walked into a room and saw 2d Lt Jabeen wearing her hijab in service dress. Seeing someone that looks like me serving alongside me is something I’ve been longing for. ⁣⁣

"Diversity and inclusion is key to make for a better world, and we are doing a heck of a job at making this world a better place. We are courageous, liberated, intelligent, resilient, and we will not stop at anything.⁣"

Other airmen to be granted approval for religious wear include Staff Sgt. Abdul Rahman Gaitan, who, in 2018, became the first Muslim airmen to receive a beard waiver for religious reasons, per the Air Force Times.

And in 2019, Airman 1st Class Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa became the first active-duty Sikh to be permitted to wear a turban and unshorn beard and hair.

Per the Air Force Times, Gurchetan Singh, who is the first Sikh American to secure a religious accommodation to serve in the Air National Guard, said in a statement:

"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. 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."