Amandeep Singh: Sikhs Will Be Impacted By Finland's Religious Headgear Ban In Military

Norway, Sweden, and Denmark allow Sikhs to wear a turban when serving in the military and police. In the United States, Canada, and the UK, turbans are part of the official uniform of Sikhs.

Amandeep Singh
July 14, 2021 | 2.5 min. read | Opinion

Finland is a country where people have the freedom to express themselves: there is freedom of religion and speech, and the press freedom index is among the highest globally.

So, the recent news in Helsingin Sanomat that the military does not allow religious headgear is difficult to understand. Sweden and Norway, for example, do not discriminate based on religious headgear when their citizens serve in the police or the military. It has been allowed in Norway since 1989 and in Sweden since2003.

Helsingin Sanomat reported on 20-year-old Fardowsa Mohamud, who was not allowed to participate in voluntary military service because of her hijab scarf. In a free country, a woman may choose to either wear a hijab or not wear it. The decision about it is personal, familial, and based on one’s own perspective. Instead, the state’s defence ministry discriminated against her with an ultimatum: choose either faith or military service.

Does the constitution protect her fundamental rights? 

In Finland, it is obligatory for all men to serve in the military for six months to one year. This is mostly done at the age of 18 years. Religious headgear ban in the Finnish defence forces may in practice be a discriminatory, unconstitutional tool where everyone who does not fit a certain threshold of ‘Finnishness’ by physical appearance, would have to cave in, lose their identity,  relinquish their right to practice religion, and lose the human right of protection against discrimination.

I am a Sikh, born in divided Panjab, India and I have warmly accepted Finland as my new homeland. Sikh turbans are gifts from our Gurus and have historically been a symbol of sovereignty and equality. The turban is an integral part of my identity and I am no one without it. Norway, Sweden, and Denmark allow Sikhs to wear a turban when serving in the military and police. In the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, turbans are part of the official uniform of Sikhs.

What Finland’s defence ministry is suggesting is that we cannot be different and still Finnish, they mean we cannot be Sikh and serve our country.

I empathize with Fardowsa Mohamud.

The decision of the Defence Forces means that I cannot serve in the military either, even though I am a citizen. This discriminatory rule can only be removed if there is a will to do so. It is important to listen and accept Finnish citizens from other religious backgrounds into the activities of the state.

Is the artificial external homogeneity of soldiers a prerequisite for the functioning of the military?

The removal of religious headgear ban may not happen with political change in Finland. The current coalition government is as progressive, inclusive as it gets in Finnish politics, and has communicated its message of celebrating diversity in Finland through acceptance of Finnish citizens of different backgrounds.

Unfortunately, this message is not reciprocated by the Finnish defence forces.

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Amandeep Singh is a Doctor of Science in Materials Science Engineering, who has expertise in lithium-ion batteries, and nanomaterials synthesis with pulsed lasers. He is a lecturer on advanced ceramic materials, work package leader in EU H2020 project, and thesis supervisor at Tampere University Finland. Amandeep's other interests include olympic lifting, photography, history, and politics. He is the co-founder of non-profit association SoliSewa Finland ry and serves as its current president. He is driven by 1Force IkOankar, and by the values of equality, sharing, and solidarity.


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