Muslim US Air Force officer sparked policy change after seeking right to wear hijab

Muslim US Air Force officer sparked policy change after seeking right to wear hijab
2 min read
06 August, 2021
Maysaa Ouza, the first Muslim officer in the legal arm of the Air Force - known as the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) - authorised to wear the hijab, sparked a policy change on religious accommodation requests.
Captain Maysaa Ouza shared her story with ABC-affiliated WXYZ TV [Getty]

An American Muslim woman who sought legal guidance to wear the hijab as part of her military uniform has sparked a policy change on religious accommodation requests in the US Air Force, local media report.

In 2018, Maysaa Ouza, 29, became the first Muslim officer in the legal arm of the Air Force - known as the Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAG) - authorised to wear the hijab, according to ABC-affiliated WXYZ TV.

When she first joined the Air Force, Ouza said she had not seen any women who wore the hijab, with the permission to wear items of dress such as hijabs or turbans requiring approval through a religious accommodation process.

"I was told I would not be able to apply for religious accommodation until after I completed officer training school. I felt like I was being made to choose between serving my country and practicing the tenants of my faith", she told WXYZ TV in a report that aired on Thursday.

Feeling as though her religious freedom were being "stripped away" she sought legal guidance and was represented by advocacy group American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Hammoud & Dakhlallah law group.

Not only did the Air Force grant her religious accommodation, but that year they also changed their policy to allow 'pre-assession' religious accommodation requests - meaning that those in Air Force could apply during officer training.

Reflecting on what motivated her to join the Air Force, she said it was her parents who had emigrated from Lebanon in the 1980 "with nothing but the clothes on their backs".

"I wanted to represent marginalised groups and I want empower others to have a voice"

In her role as a JAG officer, Ouza represents victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. She is popular on TikTok, where her videos carrying messages of inclusion and acceptance have amassed millions of views.

The US air force is still overwhelmingly white and male, with around 20% active duty personnel women. Recently, the air force commissioned its first hijab wearing female chaplain.