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Citadel student caught in hijab dispute knew it would cause 'uproar'

Sana Hamze, seen in this family photo, knew there would be an uproar over her request to wear a hijab at The Citadel but was surprised by how soon word of her request leaked and how intense the reaction was, she said.

HAMZE FAMILY PHOTO

By SUSAN SVRLUGA | The Washington Post | Published: May 31, 2016

Sana Hamze knew it would be controversial when she asked The Citadel, the historic military college in South Carolina, for an exception to the uniform rule: She wanted to wear a hijab because of her faith.

"I knew it would be an uproar, just because of how Muslims are portrayed in the media now," she said. But she was surprised how soon word leaked out that an accepted student had requested a religious accommodation and how intense the reaction was.

It made national headlines and generated debate about religious freedom, corps unity and the ideals of a system that requires uniforms to encourage cadets to work together and judge one another on character and leadership rather than individual preferences, habits and surface traits. Some talked about whether traditions were upheld because they embodied fundamental values or just because it had always been that way.

The 17-year-old from Florida said she wants to be an officer in the U.S. Navy, so a military college seemed like a great first step toward that goal, she said. And not wearing hijab was not an option, given her beliefs.

After The Citadel announced that it would not grant her request, she told the commandant that she did not think it was fair that she had to choose between her religion and her education there, she said.

Then she asked Norwich University, a private military college in Vermont, whether she could cover her head with the hijab and cover her arms and legs during physical training with the Corps of Cadets.

University officials quickly agreed.

She will attend Norwich, she said Monday afternoon, pleased that they made her feel so welcome.

Her father, Nezar Hamze, said they are still considering legal options against The Citadel, working with a lawyer at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which advocates on behalf of Muslims.

Hamze, a deputy sheriff, also is regional operations director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida.

"First and foremost is my daughter's education," he said. "She would rather be somewhere they accept her for who she is."

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