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The Supreme Court of IndiaIANS File Photo

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a high court decision that the Indian Air Force (IAF) was justified in terminating the services of a Muslim man because he sported a beard. Countering the litigant on how Sikhs are allowed to sport beards and moustaches, the bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) TS Thakur also explained why that could continue to happen.

This is not the first time a case such as this came in front of the Indian judiciary. In August this year, a Muslim policeman from Kerala had approached the Kerala High Court with a similar plea. Told to shave his beard, the policeman said in his petition that the order violated his fundamental rights.

The termination of Ansari Aftab Ahmed
The current case pertains to the termination of Ansari Aftab Ahmed from the IAF in 2008 on the grounds that he sported a beard. He contested the rules that led to his termination in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which ruled in IAF's favour. Ansari subsequently approached the Supreme Court, along with a few others who had been terminated on these grounds.

The apex court bench, while hearing Ansari's petition, observed that the current rules governing the IAF "do not interfere with religious rights of individuals and that they have the sanctity of ensuring discipline," according to the Indian Express.

Apex court justifies ruling
Ansari had pointed to Sikhs in the armed forces, who are allowed to sport beards and moustaches on the ground that it is part of their religious tradition. The Sikhs are allowed this because Sikhism advocates that every follower of the religion sport five things mandatorily: Kada (iron bangle or bracelet), kangha (comb), kesh (hair), kachchha (traditional undergarment) and kirpan or kripan (small knife-like weapon).

The apex court, however, observed: "All Muslims do not carry beard. The practice of growing and keeping beard is optional and sporting a beard is not universally recognised in the religion of Islam. Therefore, it cannot be said that Muslim religion prohibits the cutting of hair or shaving of the face of its member."