The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to examine the issue over the right of Muslims to keep beard while serving in various uniformed forces and sought the Centre’s stand on it.
Admitting a petition by a Maharashtra policeman, posted with the SRPF command, a Bench led by Justice P Sathasivam issued notices to the Centre and the state government, seeking their responses within four weeks.
The court also stayed disciplinary proceedings, initiated around six months ago, against constable Zahiroddin Shamsoddin Bedade, who is the petitioner, for refusing to shave his beard. “We can see there are some judgments by the High Courts against letting them keep beards while some others have allowed it. This is also due to different rules existing in different states,” said the Bench as it perused a few court orders.
Senior advocate Anoop G Chaudhari told the Bench that a central government rule allowed Muslims to keep beard. “However, different norms by the state governments were leading to perplexity. Moreover, the SC has in past dealt with appeals from different High Courts but it is yet to pass an authoritative verdict if Muslims can sport beard or not,” he said.
The petition, filed through advocate Shakil Ahmad Syed, claimed that it was a “religious discrimination” since Sikh personnel were allowed to sport beard and long hair as a religious practice but Muslims were being denied the same. The plea said such a restriction interfered with a person’s right under Article 25 ( Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion).
Also seeking to challenge the Maharashtra High Court’s observation that the petitioner had failed to prove that keeping beard was one of the tenets of Islam, the counsel adduced some ‘Hadith’ — believed to be sayings or acts ascribed to Prophet Muhammad that are considered to be tools to understand Quran. Submitting English translation of ‘Hadith,’ the lawyer said they made it clear that keeping beard was one of the tenets of Islam.
Zahiroddin joined the State Reserve Police Force in Maharashtra in 2008. He was initially allowed to keep the beard as per the Central government norms. However, with changes in the regulations related to service rules in Maharashtra, the commandant cancelled this permission in October 2012, said Syed.
After disciplinary proceedings began, Zahiroddin approached the HC. The HC dismissed his plea after noting the order was in the form of “reasonable restrictions” under