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Wednesday 25 April 2018
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Cops wearing hijabs, a change in tradition

Muslim women in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) should not take the Service’s dress regulations as a sign of discrimination against them.

However, now that the issue of wearing hijabs while on active duty has been raised, the TTPS needs to address it.

This according to Trinidad Muslim League (TML) president, Dr Nasser Mustapha, in response to the report of 13 Muslim women writing Acting Commissioner of Police (CoP) Stephen Williams, and the Police Social Welfare Association (PSWA), seeking permission to wear hijabs while on duty.

“The TTPS has a strict dress code. It’s not like working as a teacher or a place of business where your style of dress is a matter of choice. Allowing a hijab will be a change in tradition and it needs to be discussed.

It is not that they are being discriminated against. In the mean time, they need to be more selective when it comes to their occupations,” he said.

Mustapha added that Muslim women have guidelines as to what they should do and where they should go which may cause some friction with their jobs as police officers who actively fight crime.

He said that, if involved in the Police Service, women in general should consider duties that do not leave them alone in dangerous situations, patrolling the streets, or at a security risk.

PSWA president Inspector Michael Seales agreed that a discussion with respect to a change in the rules and regulations of the TTPS was necessary, and the issue of female Muslim officers wearing hijabs was just one issue in a larger scheme of things.

He noted the TTPS recruitment regulations states potential officers should have no visible tattoos. For officers, a female’s hair should not be coloured or longer than the nape of their necks. Also, male officers were to be clean shaven, which affects Muslim men having beards.

Seales said in the UK and various parts of North America, police and army officers were recruited to represent that cross-section of people which they serve. Therefore, in the case of tattoos, the US army limits the amount of tattoos on neck, stating they must not be offensive.

“We, as an association had to be responsible and look at the rules, which were borne out of the colonial system, seeing that the nation has grown after 54 years of independence, it’s supposed to be about a professional outlook,” he said yesterday.

“As an association we feel it is the right time to sensibly look at these issues from a responsible viewpoint, and from a mature position... because all we want is an officer, regardless of his religious background, to perform his duty in the most professional manner, which is what is important to the employer,” he continued.

Seales added the review should have come about a long time ago and that best practices from around the world should be the yard stick. “We cannot, as a society, say we are looking towards a first world status and not consider the plight of everyone’s religious beliefs and obligations,” he said.

However, his immediate concern was the report that one of the Muslim police officers, Special Reserve Police (SRP) Constable Sharon Roop, reported for duty at an event in plain-clothes, and was prohibited from interacting with the public because she wore a hijab.

“From the standpoint of the association that’s a no-no. It should not be that you hold back a person, in terms of the issue of performance of duty, based on a religious garb,” he said.

In addition, Seales noted the association wrote to head of the Anjuman Sunnat Jamaat Association (ASJA) Yacoob Ali for consultation on the matter on July 11 but has yet to receive a response. The association also wrote to Williams, Minister of National Security Edmund Dillon and chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC) Dr Maria Gomes.

“I am saying that it should provoke a national discussion because I look at some of what has come out of the constitution and the laws in existence are more from a point of Christian principles.

These are things we can not discriminate against other religion in terms of their place in society,” he said.

Sunday Newsday was unable to reach Ali, Dillon and Williams for comment yesterday.

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