The U.S Army has given approval for Muslim soldiers and soldiers of other religious minorities to wear beards, head scarf or hijabs for women.
Soldiers who desire to wear any of the items are to obtain approval to customise their dress and groom according to their religious customs while serving in the military.
In a memorandum signed this week, Army Secretary, Eric Fanning, revised the uniform policy to set appearance standards for people seeking religious accommodations to wear beards, turbans and head scarfs.
However soldiers with such religious obligations must still be able to wear combat helmets and other protective headgears: they must modify their hairstyles to achieve a proper fit.
All head scarfs or hijabs must be of a similar color to the uniform and be free of designs or markings, unless they are camouflage and worn with a camouflage uniform.
The new rules also enable brigade-level commanders to approve the religious accommodations, an authority that was an exclusive preservation of the Army secretary.
If any soldier is denied religious obligations, he may then appeal to the Army Secretary.
According to the memorandum, once a religious accommodation is approved for a soldier, it may not be revised throughout the soldier’s career except by the approval of the Army Secretary.
“The accommodation will not affect job specialties or duty locations, except in a few limited cases.
“Our goal is to balance soldier readiness and safety with the accommodation of our soldiers’ faith practices, and this latest directive allows us to do that,” Lt. Col. Randy Taylor said in a statement.
Reuters reports that the new rules were welcomed by the Sikh Coalition.
“We are pleased with the progress that this new policy represents for religious tolerance and diversity,” said coalition Legal Director Harsimran Kaur.
Sikhs have a long tradition of military service in India and elsewhere and have served in the United States as far back as World War One.
But uniform reforms after the Vietnam War made it difficult for them to serve without violating the tenets of their faith.