Minister of Home Affairs, Wilfred Abrahams (centre), in discussion with President of the Barbados Association of Muslim Ladies, Sakina Bakharia (left); Secretary, Ferozah Kothdiwala (second left), and Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association, Suleiman Bulbulia. Also pictured are Chairperson for the Ichirouganaim, Asheba Trotman; Elder of the Rastafari Community, Keturah Babb; and Chief Immigration Officer, Wayne Marshall. (GP)

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados–October 9th, 2020–Barbadians whose religious beliefs mandate that they keep their heads covered, will no longer be required to remove their headdress to take official photographs.

This follows Cabinet approval on Thursday, October 1st, for wearing head coverings for religiously mandated purposes during the taking of official photographs, such as the Barbados Identification Card, passport and driver’s license.

Minister of Home Affairs, Information and Public Affairs, Wilfred Abrahams, made the announcement during a press conference at the Ministry’s Wildey, St. Michael office this morning.

“The standard is that you must not cover your head. That is a general standard and the general law in Barbados.

“However, if you are a member of a recognized religion in Barbados… and your religion mandates that you cover your head, or cover your ears, then you are free to take your passport photograph once you provide proof to  the Chief Immigration Officer that you are a member of that religious organization, and that religious organization does have these rules in place…,” he stated.

The Minister explained that representatives from the Muslim and Rastafari communities raised the issue of discrimination with Government, stating that they should be allowed to practice the edicts of their respective faiths.

Mr. Abrahams said the Chief Immigration Officer advised that there were standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regarding photographs for e-passports.

“The ICAO guidelines on passport requirements state that the head coverings are not permitted, except for religious reasons, but the facial features from the bottom of the chin to the top of the forehead and both edges of the face must be clearly shown…,” he said.

The Minister further pointed out that Barbados accepted passports from persons of other religions arriving from countries such as the United States, Australia and Canada, which allowed for head coverings.

“So, if we would accept that for other countries, there was really no good reason why we should continue to discriminate…against the religious practices of our brothers and sisters in Barbados,” he stated.

Mr. Abrahams stressed that the principle was one of general application and was not gender specific, as it applied to both males and females.

He also gave members of the Muslim and Rastafari community the assurance that Government was working to address instances of indignity, discrimination and anomalies when they were brought to its attention.

“I have to respect your religious beliefs in the same way that I wish you to respect mine. As a country, we need to remove all stigmas and all aspects of discrimination wherever we find them and wherever they impact or affect the citizens of Barbados,” Mr. Abrahams maintained.

The move has been welcomed by members of the Muslim and Rastafari communities.

President of the Barbados Association of Muslim Ladies, Sakina Bakaria, said the organization fully supported the move as past challenges had prevented many Muslim women from renewing their official documents.

“I have not renewed my Barbados passport for a number of years, because I have another one that I can travel on that allows me to wear my hijab. So, it is a stepping stone. It is wholeheartedly appreciated by our entire community,” Mrs. Bakaria stated.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Chairperson for the Ichirouganaim, Asheba Trotman, who thanked Government for its acknowledgement of them as a spiritual and cultural people.

Noting that the discrimination was ongoing for the last 30 to 40 years, Ms. Trotman explained that one of their greatest challenges was with the Immigration personnel and having to remove their head wraps in front of hundreds of people.

A refusal, she said, usually meant they would be taken to a room as if they were a security risk.

File photo. Dame Julie Andrews’ fame hit a pinnacle with the blockbuster movie The Sound of Music in 1965, in which she played a rebellious young nun. As a nun she would have been given an exemption for her head covering for a passport photo!

Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association, Suleiman Bulbulia, also expressed his gratitude for the move by Government.

“The true test of a democracy is how it [a government] treats its minorities. And Barbados is standing to that test and coming out with flying colors by enacting rules and regulations like these that allow for minority groups, and people of different faiths and cultures to be able to express that even with national photographs, and so on. So, we are extremely grateful [and] thankful that we have reached this stage after so many years,” he stated.

This ruling appears to bring Barbados in line with major nations, where, as a general rule, you can’t wear eyeglasses, hats or head coverings of any sort in your passport photo, unless you present documentation to show a valid medical or religious reason.

One of the first groups to run afoul of Western passport laws were the Sikhs, whose male members are bound to leave their hair uncut, wear a turban at all times, and grow a beard, but in recent times other groups such as Muslim hijab-wearers have also become an issue.

And, of course, the classic religious exception to the rule is the Christian nun, as depicted by Dame Julie Andrews above. (However, a real nun would have to cover all of her hair, and not have a fringe at the front.}