To beard or not to beard?
That was apparently not the question for one Muslim police officer in Manhattan.
32-year-old Pakistani American Masood Syed was recently suspended without pay after refusing to trim his beard shorter.
A written notice was presented to Syed by his supervisor the day before the suspension demanding his beard, the same one which he has kept between a half-inch to one-inch throughout his 10 year career in law enforcement, be shaved entirely.
The request came after Syed was ordered to take a new picture for his ID card. Because a religious accommodation letter must to accompany all employees with beards in excess of one millimeter, and Syed’s was filed but still pending, the sergeant assigned to the ID unit reported the incident to his supervisor.
The former law clerk was stripped of his badge and and gun and then escorted by two uniformed officers from his desk where he prepares legal documents.
“It was extremely humiliating,” he said. “I felt insulted frankly.”
According to several documents submitted to the court, Syed was more than aware of the New York Police Department’s policies regarding facial hair and took many steps to ensure he always remained in compliance.
Upon joining the police department in 2006, Syed received a medical accommodation for his beard, which he keeps as a requirement of his Islamic faith. Just two years later, he was able to implement a religious accommodation.
In 2011, Syed signed a required document stating that he would grow his beard no longer than the required one millimeter. Court documents indicate other officers have beards longer than that though.
Pictured Above: Court documents detailing Syed’s compliance with the no-beard policy
Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time that facial hair has created major problems for the NYPD and their employees. Fishel Litzman, a member of the Jewish community who worked as a probationary officer was fired in 2012 for refusing to adhere to the strict no-beard policy.
Feeling that the policy that caused his dismissal was unconstitutional, Litzman filed a federal lawsuit against the NYPD. While the department countered, a U.S. District Court Judge ruled that the policy did in fact infringe upon his religious rights.
Litzman has since been reinstated with the NYPD and his beard has been kept to the appropriate length to qualify for religious accommodation.
Syed’s attorney Joshua S. Moskovitz cited Litzman’s recent ruling and is confident the court will favor his client. “This case has been litigated already, which is part of what I find the most troubling about the NYPD’s conduct here,” Moskovitz said.
A preliminary injunction hearing has been set for July 8th. Until then, the NYPD has been ordered to continue paying Syed’s regular salary and benefits.
“I am very relieved at the outcome, very happy with the judge’s decision,” Syed said after the emergency hearing last Wednesday. “I think it was the right decision.”
It’s no news that many Muslims in America have faced similar discrimination throughout recent years. However, the current political climate perpetuated by loudmouth politicians and xenophobic hate groups has allowed for the immediate and obvious targeting of Muslims -and those who are commonly mistaken for Muslims- specifically in the workplace.
Fortunately, these efforts to outright deny Muslims their right to the First Amendment have not been as successful as anticipated. As Islam becomes more mainstream and Muslims continue to fill positions across all industries, companies have become more aware of their rights as Americans wanting to lawfully practice their religion.
In April, a Sikh-American army officer was awarded a religious accommodation to serve with long hair, a beard, and turban in accordance with his faith.
Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a young Muslim girl who was denied a job at the popular clothing store Abercrombie & Fitch. Samantha Elauf, who wore a hijab to an interview, was told that her headscarf violated the company’s “look policy.”
Reports by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reveal that Muslims file more employment claims about discrimination than any other religious group in the U.S.