The hijab is in the news again. For whatever reason, people just can’t seem to stop talking about it. This time, a Muslim woman is being denied the right to wear her hijab to The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina. After being admitted, the young woman, who has remained unidentified, was called by a student commandant and informed of the decision. According to a statement made by Citadel President Lt Gen John Rosa, “The Citadel has relied upon a highly effective educational model requiring all cadets to adopt a common uniform. Uniformity is the cornerstone of this four-year leader development model. The standardization of cadets in apparel, overall appearance, actions and privileges is essential to the learning goals and objectives of the college. This process reflects an initial relinquishing of self.”
It’s interesting that this is the reasoning considering that for so many the critiques against hijab is that it relinquishes a woman’s sense of self. In fact, recently Laurence Rossignol French minister for, ironically, women’s rights compared Muslim women who wear the hijab to “negroes who accepted slavery”. That same news day, Pierre Berge, who was Yves Saint Laurent’s business and life partner until his death in 2008, took aim at designers who catered to Muslim women for participating in the “enslavement of [these] women”. So is the hijab individual expression or mindless conformity?
Here we have a case of a Muslim woman making a choice to join a military academy presumably to go on to the Armed Forces. And yet, she’s being told to check that choice at the door. This case harkens back to a time after 9/11 when George Bush declared “you’re either with us or against us.” During that time, Muslims were judged for being unpatriotic. Are you Muslim or American first?
The Citadel is hoping she will still join the school but without her hijab. This is something a lot of people don’t understand. For the Muslim women who do wear their hijab in public and around unrelated males, it is not an accessory. It isn’t like a hat that she takes on and off; it becomes a part of her, like her skin. To see this woman in her hijab is to see her as she presents herself to the world. Full stop.
The young woman’s family is considering legal recourse because of this infringement on her religious freedom guaranteed by the US constitution. William Burgess, senior staff attorney for CAIR, stated, “The Citadel violated the student’s right to a religious accommodation under the First Amendment and the South Carolina Religious Freedom Act, which makes it illegal for a state institution to place a burden on a person’s ability to practice his or her faith without the most compelling justification.”
One of the justifications given, applauded by many (just read through any comments sections on any of the previously linked news articles), was the fact that the Citadel has never accommodated any other religion in its 175 year establishment. And yet, according to these arguments in support of the right of an institution to uphold its traditions, if this young girl decides to adhere to the rules of her 1400 year old religion, she is deemed to be clinging to “outdated” traditions.
What makes this even odder is that the US military allows men and women to serve in turbans and hijabs. If the cadets at the Citadel are going to serve in that same military then why deny them those same rights? Prior to 1995, there were no females allowed at the Citadel until they were legally challenged and lost. Maybe it’s time for the Citadel to reconsider this rule as well. If the hijab doesn’t interfere with her ability to perform her duties, then it shouldn’t matter. If the Citadel is committed to “having a diverse and inclusive campus, and …recogn[ize] the importance of cadets’ religious beliefs” then it shouldn’t dictate those beliefs.