New Delhi, Jan 23: Does growing flowing beard by a religious Muslim policeman clash with his professional requirement? The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to examine the issue and sought response from the Union ministry of home affairs to settle the dispute once and for all.
Zahirddin oShamsuddin Bedade, a constable in the Maharashtra Reserve Police Force, was permitted by the Commandant to keep beard by a May 7, 2012 order with a caveat that it will be kept trimmed, neat and tidy.
Five months later, the Commandant rescinded his earlier order saying the permission to grow beard till the rest of the service was not in accordance with the rules. "In future, if it is found necessary to grow bears temporarily during specific months, Bedade should get such permission from this office," the order said.
Bedade challenged this order in the Bombay High Court, which dismissed his petition resulting in initiation of disciplinary proceedings against him by the police department. He moved the Supreme Court.
On Tuesday, a bench of Justices P Sathasivam and J S Khehar said this issue had arisen in the past before some of the High Courts and most had rejected demands from policeman to keep beard. The time has come for the apex court to examine the issue from the constitutional point of view and settle the controversy once and for all, it said and stayed the disciplinary proceedings against Bedade.
The Aurangabad bench of the Bombay HC had held that police force being a secular law enforcing agency, it was of utmost importance that such force must have a secular image. In situations like communal riots, postings at religious places of worship and sensitive areas members of the disciplined force had to discharge his duties without displaying his religious identity, the HC had said in its December 12, 2012.
The HC agreed with its earlier decision and said: "Wearing a beard is not a fundamental tenet of Islam. It cannot be treated as a part of the religious faith or belief. For that matter, it cannot be treated even as a religious practice of general acceptance."
Petitioner Bedade through counsel Shakil Ahmad Syed said the Union government in its 1989 circular for paramilitary forces had said, "A member of the force belonging to Muslim community may be permitted to keep beard on religious grounds. Once permission is given, the member concerned will have to wear it consistently for the rest of his service unless permitted upon written request to remove."
Senior advocate Anoop Chaudhary argued before Justices Sathasivam and Khehar cited several Hadith of the Prophet advising Muslims to keep beard and hence it was obligatory on part of every person following Islam to follow it.
The bench issued notice on the petition and asked the ministry of home affairs as well as Maharashtra government to file their responses within four weeks.