NYPD to allow officers to wear turbans, beards for religious reasons

Islamic advocacy organizations are praising a new decision by the New York Police Department to allow Muslims to wear beards and Sikhs to wear beards and turbans with their uniforms for religious reasons.

The move comes as the NYPD has been stressing diversity within its ranks, partly as a response to heightened tensions between police and communities across the country.

In an impassioned speech after the presidential election in November, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised New York City would take legal action before complying with the campaign proposal from President-elect Donald Trump to establish a Muslim registry. A marketing campaign in the subways has encouraged people of all faiths and ethnicities to apply for jobs with the department.

“We want to make the NYPD as diverse as possible and I think this is going to go a long way to help us with that,” police commissioner James O’Neill said.

The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic relations applauded the decision, noting that before the move, Muslims on the police force could only grow their beards up to 1 millimeter. They are now allowed to grow beards up to a half inch from their faces.

“We applaud this long-overdue step to make sure the NYPD better reflects our city’s diverse communities,” CAIR-NY executive director Afaf Nasher said in a statement. “We are particularly grateful to the work of Public Advocate Letitia James in advocating for Muslim officers who were previously asked to choose between public service and their faith.”

The group United Sikhs, which has offices in New York and throughout the world, has been lobbying for such a change for months and said Thursday that Sikhs were applauding the move worldwide. More, however, needs to be done, its president said in a statement.

“It’s a win for the officers but also the community members who will reap the benefits of a more diverse police force patrolling their neighborhoods,” said Hardayal Singh, executive director of United Sikhs.

“While we are undoubtedly celebrating the welcome move to allow turbans we will not be satisfied until the NYPD and other forces across the country make appropriate changes to the policy on facial hair,” the statement continued. “The Sikh religion forbids cutting or shaving any bodily hair. Until Sikhs can serve without any of their articles of faith being called into question we will keep pushing the NYPD and other forces to make the necessary accommodations.”

Sikhs consider the turban a symbol of their dedication to serving humanity. They wear it as a crown. It also is considered as a way to preserve the Sikh identity. Sikhs do not cut their hair as a way of showing respect to God. The turban helps protect their hair.