Seven-year-old petition on sporting of beard by Muslim man in Air Force continues to linger as SC refuses urgent hearing

By A Mirsab,,

New Delhi: For Ansari Aftab Ahmed, November 26, 2008 was a black day, just as it was for thousands of people in Mumbai and the rest of the country, but for slightly different and personal reasons. Seven years ago, the Indian Air force, his employers, informed him that his services were no longer required, as he had violated the Air Force Code of keeping a beard. Seven years later, little has changed.

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On Monday, the Supreme Court turned down Ahmed’s plea for expeditious hearing of his appeal to decide ‘if his sacking by IAF due to sporting of beard is justified’.

The divisional bench of Supreme Court headed by Justice H L Dattu on Monday rejected Ahmed’s plea to urgently hear the legal issue that involves question of whether Muslim personnel can assert sporting beard as a facet of their fundamental right to freedom of religion, and seek equality with Sikhs, who are allowed to sport unshorn hair and turban.

Before this termination, the IAF did issue show cause notices to Ahmed, now 35 years old, stating in the end, “Your act of sporting beard contrary to the Air HQ Policy dated 24 Feb 03 is considered to be violative of ‘Air Force Discipline’. Such an act indicates that you are not amenable to Service discipline and you further retention in the Air Force is not desirable.

The row over sporting a beard goes back to a notification issued by the defence Ministry in 2003 reads, “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.”

Ahmed, who currently stays in Jamia Nagar, Delhi is presently unemployed and pursuing higher study. He was disappointed with Supreme Court’s denial for urgent hearing of his matter and did not respond to queries posed by

However, speaking to, advocate Irshad Haneef, who is appearing for Ahmed before Supreme Court said, “We tried to urge the court to hear matter urgently as it is pending in court without hearing for a long time, but the SC declined. Now we don’t know when it will be scheduled (for hearing), probably a year or two”.

He said there are many similar petitions filed by other Muslim men who were also either thrown out of service or faced disciplinary action for sporting beards ,’these (petitions) are also linked with Ahmed’s petition’.

Haneef is appointed by Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, a Muslim social organization to look after all the above petitions involving interest of Muslim community.

“Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind has decided to represent all these personnel before Supreme Court as the object matter of these petitions is linked with interest of the Muslim community as a whole”, Haneef said.

On questioning what would be the next step of Jamiat after Supreme Court turned down plea for urgent hearing he said without elaborating, “Jamiat is in a discussion of finding a way to meet government authority for issuance of clear notification by it to stop the ambiguity in regards with Muslim personnel’s right in forces to sport beard”.

Ahmed enrolled in the Indian Air Force on August 19, 2001 and was posted at 3 Base Repair Depot (BRD) (Chandigarh) with effective from 03 Jul 04.

On January 10, 2005, he wrote an application to IAF for permission to sport beard on a permanent basis. On February 09, 2005 his application was rejected by the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) 3 BRD in sighting a reason that it cannot permit in accordance with the Air HQ policy on the subject of ‘growth of Hear and Beard and Wearing of Turbans by AF Personnel’, issued vide Air HQ/C 23406/24/PS dated 24 Feb 2003.

On March 22, 2005 Ahmed again applied for the permission asking to reconsider the earlier rejection of his permission. This too came to be rejected by the AOC on April 7, 2005.

With the application dated June 2, 2005 Ahmed then sought an interview with AOC 3 BRD in connection with his request to grow beard.

After his interview on June 10, 2005, BRD sought advice from the head quarter (HQ) of IAF on the issue. He was then provisionally authorized to grow his beard till finalization of his application forwarded to HQ, IAF.

On August 26, 2005 IAF clarified that in accordance with the Air HQ policy dated February, 24, 2003 he was not entitled to keep beard.

Consequently, he was informed by Group Commander (admin) 3 BRD that the provisional permission to keep beard granted to him on August 03, 2005 had been withdrawn and he was directed to shave-off beard by September 20, 2005.

Ahmed filed a petition against this directive to him before High Court of Punjab & Haryana that in turn granted a ‘stay’ on the said direction. However, High court on July 14, 2008 dismissed the said Writ Petition and held the Air HQ policy dated February 24, 2003 to be legal and valid.

Ahmed again filed appeal before double bench of Punjab & Haryana High Court but that too was rejected on July 31, 2008.

Consequent to this order, on August 12, 2008 Ahmed was directed to shave off his beard within two days but Ahmed preferred to file an appeal before Supreme Court against the order of Punjab & Haryana High Court.

Supreme Court issued notices to the parties but not provided any ‘stay’ on the operation of the order of the high court.
Ahmed was then found to have continued to sport beard, he was issued two show cause notices and finally on November 26, 2008 he was dismissed from the service.

Ever since then, Ahmed’s petition is pending before the Supreme Court, and he continues to remain unemployed in the hope that he shall get justice from the Apex court.