Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Ban on Hijabs in Schools Having Some Disturbing Consequences

Paul Goble

Staunton, September 18 – The Russian government’s ban on the wearing of the hijab in schools not only has led to widespread civil disobedience with local officials looking the other way at violations but has cut school attendance in some regions and led some regional officials to tell Russian citizens that if they don’t like the ban, they should leave the country.

The “hijab problem,” as many refer to it, has arisen because Islam requires Muslim girls to cover their hair and Russian law prohibits them from doing so in schools.  In the city of Moscow, some school officials are allowing Muslim girls to wear the hijab anyway, but in Moscow oblast and elsewhere, most are not (

According to Nikolay Zhukov, an official in Moscow oblast, everyone is trying to avoid having such “collisions” get out of hand.  In one school, where about 20 percent of the students are Muslims (Azerbaijanis and Tajiks), only two girls or more precisely their parents demanded that they be allowed to wear the hijab.

One of the two girls stopped coming to school altogether, while the other has come only irregularly, Zhukov says.  Administrators been trying to find a way out, including offering home schooling, something the fathers of the two are not happy about.  One mother counter-proposed having her daughter wear a wig to satisfy the religious requirement.  “We’ve thrown up our hands.”

What officials are worried about, he continued, is that the problems of the two will spread to the other Muslim students, something that could be a real difficulty if it happens.  Indeed, on Fridays, this is already happening with more Muslim students wearing hijabs or not coming to school at all because they are going to the mosque.

            Zhukov said that something else is going on as well: Muslim students are self-segregating themselves in the upper grades.  In some classes, there are no Muslim students at all while in another, presumably on the same subject, there are as many as 50 percent Muslim pupils. What does this mean? And how should a secular school system respond?

            In a speech to the Valdai Club this week, Damir Mukhetdinov, the first deputy chairman of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Muslims of the European Portion of Russia, said that the hijab ban in the schools of thecountry has already acquired a troubling “all-Russian dimension” (

            Given that the Russian Supreme Court has permitted Muslims to wear a hijab when they are photographed for a passport, it is difficult to see why Muslim pupils cannot wear the hijab to class.  And it is very disturbing that some Russian officials are using this ban as a political football to curry favor with some of their constituents.

            The governor of Astrakhan, for example, has told the parents who do not agree with the hijab ban that they should “change their Motherland,” even though Muslims currently form 29 percent of his oblast’s residents. Such comments do little to calm the situation, Mukhetdinov added.

            But even worse, the implicit suggestion behind them that some groups have priority over others “on the basis of their numbers” or presence in a particular territory open the door to fights, both verbal and otherwise over “’who is more important and who is stronger,’” fights that will only exacerbate problems.

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