The Citadel cadets
Military cadets at The Citadel cheer at a football game.Reuters

A prospective female Muslim student at one of America's oldest military colleges is threatening to sue because school officials have refused to allow her to wear a hijab. Every one of the students at The Citadel wears a military uniform at all times on campus other than while swimming or sleeping. The prestigious 175-year-old public military college that trains officers for the US services first admitted women in 1995.

The Citadel "has relied upon a highly effective educational model requiring all cadets to adopt a common uniform," said Lieutenant General John Rosa, president of the South Carolina college.

"The standardization of cadets in apparel, overall appearance, action, and privileges is essential to the learning goals and objectives of the college" and "reflects an initial relinquishing of self" that is an important aspect of military discipline, he added.

Rosa said the school accommodates cadets' spiritual and religious beliefs, linking, and even driving, incoming students to houses of worship, and meeting prayer and dietary needs.

But its dress code is "famously strict," reports the Charleston Post and Courier. The college handbook is exhaustively detailed and sets rigid dress requirements and maximum hair length for men and women. The policy only allows religious medals or medical tags to be worn if they are completely hidden. There is currently no accommodation for any religious dress, although several cadets of Muslim faith attend the school.

Hijab
The hijab head dress has been banned from one of America's oldest and strictest military schools.iStock

The unidentified female student will not consider attending the school unless rules are changed and is currently discussing her legal options, said Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"She told the commandant it wasn't fair that she has to choose between practicing her faith and going to the Citadel," said Hooper, who called the development "disturbing," and said the prospective student's right to wear a hijab is an "important civil rights matter."

Asra Nomani, co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement, applauded the Citadel's decision, insisting that the religion does not require women to wear a hijab.

She believes the hijab requirement is an interpretation by "a fundamentalist, puritanical, political Islam." In her opinion, "including the headscarf in The Citadel uniform would be equal to including the side curls, or payot, worn by some men and boys in Orthodox Judaism," she told the Washington Post.

A spokeswoman for the US Department of Defence said each branch of the military has the authority to make determinations for religious accommodation as long as it doesn't interfere with military readiness, unit cohesion, standards, or discipline.

The military has recently relaxed its rules for male Sikhs, allowing beards and turbans, but only if it does not interfere with military operations or safety. But schools are not the military.

The West Point Military Academy only allows the wearing of religious items that are not visible or apparent when in duty uniform — "provided they do not interfere with the performance of the soldier's military duties, or interfere with the proper wearing of any authorized article of the uniform," said a spokeswoman.

Officials of the West Point military academy recently launched an investigation after a group of graduating female cadets posed for a photo with their fists raised in the symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement. The academy has a strict policy barring expressions of support for political messages.

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