American Air Force officially allow hijabs and beards, for religious reasons

The Air Force on Friday updated its regulations to formally allow airmen to ask for a waiver to wear religious apparel such as or hijabs, or beards or turbans worn for religious reasons.

The update to AFI 36-2903, “Dress and personal appearance of Air Force personnel,” allows airmen to request a waiver to wear religious apparel, as long as they are “neat and conservative” and present a professional and well-groomed appearance.

The new religious accommodation rules also cover unshorn beards and unshorn hair — such as those worn by members of the Sikh faith — under-turbans or patkas, and other indoor or outdoor head coverings.

Such a request for an exemption to a military policy can only be denied, the AFI change said, if the policy “furthers a compelling government interest” and is the least restrictive way of furthering that interest.

The Air Force has granted several airmen permission to wear beards, and the hijab for religious reasons in recent years.

Staff Sgt. Abdul Rahman Gaitan in 2018 became the first Muslim airman to receive a beard waiver for religious reasons. Capt. Maysaa Ouza, the first Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps officer to wear the hijab, was also featured in a short NBC documentary last year.

The updated regulation said beards must be no longer than two inches when measured from the bottom of the chin and must be rolled and/or tied when longer than two inches.