Muslim Airman First to get Beard Waiver
SSgt Abdul Rahman Gaitan has become the first US Air Force Airman to obtain a religious exemption to grow a beard in uniform:
The biggest challenge yet, was getting approval for his shaving waiver from Air Force Headquarters. This required endorsement by the unit commander, base chaplain, installation commander up to the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, Personnel Division. This process took Gaitan almost four years to accomplish.
Interestingly, the article explains Gaitan was actually Catholic, but he apparently became disenchanted with the lack of authenticity in the liturgical faith — and he was drawn to the seeming sincerity of Islam he saw in locals while stationed in Turkey.
With the beard openly displaying his religion, Gaitan says a few people gave him grief:
“A month after I started growing my beard, someone shooed me away with their hand saying very negative things because I was a Muslim. A week later, another person from a different squadron felt comfortable enough to ask me if I had joined ISIS,” Gaitan said. “These two incidents weren’t the only ones, earlier that year someone openly questioned if I was a terrorist.”
Gaitan says his peers and then his chain of command came to his defense, with his commander holding an all-call in which he emphasized tolerance.
As an interesting aside, Gaitan goes to great lengths to defend the religious value of his beard, as is his right. It’s an interesting contrast, though, with the US Army’s highest ranking Muslim chaplain — who is clean-shaven.
The public display of religion is part of the practice of one’s faith — and is thus protected by the US Constitution, even for US troops. Within the military, religious accommodation is required to the extent it does not impede the mission.
Incident like this, of course, cause some scrutiny on the crusade led by Michael “Mikey” Weinstein against Christians in the US military. Weinstein has indicated that if a servicemember is able to know that a fellow troop is a Christian, then they may feel offended, hurt, coerced, or pressured to likewise be a Christian. Thus, any public display of religion by a Christian — whether a Bible on a desk or a simple statement that ‘I am a Christian’ — raises Mikey Weinstein’s hackles, with Mikey’s cries demanding court-martial, punishment, decapitation, or prison for the Christian.
Yet here is a Muslim Airman openly demonstrating his faith to his superiors and subordinates alike… and Mikey Weinstein remains silent.
US troops aren’t the wilting flowers Mikey Weinstein often portrays. They can work alongside, over, or subordinate to a Muslim Airman and not be converted by proximity or feel so offended that good order and discipline is called into question. When the mission allows, a Muslim Airman should be allowed to wear his beard — just as a Sikh Soldier, Jewish Airman, or pagan Soldier should be allowed to wear theirs — and just as a Christian servicemember should be allowed to publicly practice his faith.
That’s religious liberty.
And it’s not complicated.
US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Liliana Moreno.