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Niqab Adds New Wrinkle To Tajikistan's Head-Scarf Ban

The niqab leaves only the eyes of the woman exposed.
The niqab leaves only the eyes of the woman exposed.
By Farangis Najibullah
It's been nearly a year since 18-year-old Fatima began wearing the niqab, a loose cloak that covers her from head to toe, leaving only her eyes exposed.

The Dushanbe resident, who declined to provide her full name, says she has studied Islam "for some time" and eventually came to the conclusion that wearing the niqab was befitting of her religious beliefs.

"People stare at me in streets," she says. "Some of them call me 'ninja.' But I don't care. It makes my faith even stronger."

In the past year, the number of Tajik women wearing the niqab has grown considerably -- with the trend most evident among women in their late teens or early 20s.

The niqab's rising popularity comes despite a partial ban imposed in 2007 on the comparatively more revealing hijab, branded as an unnecessary foreign import. The wearing of that head scarf, popular among many Tajik Muslim women, is not allowed in state institutions, some public places, and shops.

Surayo Nabieva, a secondary-school teacher in the northern city of Khujand, says the Tajik authorities now face a dilemma. "We thought the hijab was extreme," she says. "Now there is the niqab, which makes the hijab look moderate."

Element Of Arab Culture

Belgium's recently approved ban on Muslim women wearing veils that cover their entire face -- as well as similar legislation being considered in France -- provide examples of the most extreme methods for dealing with the issue. As Tajik authorities ponder the situation, some experts argue that not only do clothing bans fail to keep foreign religious influences at bay, they may end up having the opposite effect.

A young Tajik woman wearing a hijab (file photo)
Many in predominantly Muslim Tajikistan regard the niqab as an element of Arab culture -- one that does not fit with the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam practiced by most Tajik Muslims, which does not require women to cover their faces. Tajikistan's Council of Ulema, a state-backed independent religious body, has called on believers to stick to tradition by wearing the Tajik costume consisting of a medium-length, colorful dress worn with trousers.

But as the influence of religion grows in Tajik society, the country can expect to see more women opting for the hijab or niqab as religious diversity rises. Singling out those believers for official scrutiny, observers argue, won't diminish their beliefs or prevent them from looking outside Hanafi tradition.

Fatima says her decision to wear the niqab has led to harassment, with passersby treating her with suspicion or even calling her a "Wahhabi," a term widely used in Tajikistan for religious extremists.

Violates Constitution

Bakhtiyor Nasrulloev, a lawyer who specializes in family law and women's rights, is campaigning to have the ban on head scarves in Tajik schools lifted.

"The ban violates the Tajik Constitution in two ways," says Nasrulloev, who does not see any connection between the ban on head scarves and growing use of the niqab. "First, according to the law, every Tajik citizen has the right to practice their religion of choice. And secondly, every citizen has the right to an education. Denying these young women their education because they wear the hijab is against Tajik law."

Many Muslim women now remove their hijabs just before entering the grounds of universities or schools. Many who have refused have been expelled. Parents of hijab-wearing students, conservative religious groups, and the Islamic Renaissance Party -- the only officially registered Islamic party in Central Asia -- all accuse the Education Ministry of violating citizens' rights. At least one female student has sued the ministry, unsuccessfully.

Education officials appear unbowed. Fourth-year university student Ganjina Sharifova was expelled from Tajik National University on April 26.

"I always comply with the ban when I'm inside the university building and put on my hijab after I leave the building," she says. "But the dean of the university saw me wearing the hijab on my way to the dormitory."

So far, the wearing of the niqab has been seen mostly in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe. But Khujand schoolteacher Nabieva laments that it won't be long before the trend spreads to other regions.

"I don't like the niqab. No one among my family or friends approves of it," Nabieva says. "But I'm afraid it is becoming a fixture of everyday life and no one seems to be able to stop it."

RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Bill Webb from: Phoenix, AZ, U.S.A.
May 04, 2010 15:53
Anyone who wants to conceal their identity in public immediately makes me suspicious. If you can't relate to the world stay home and pull the blankets over your head.
In Response

by: Ibrahim Nakhal from: Saudi Arabia
May 05, 2010 09:36
You sir, are a completely ignorant fool, Muslim women wear this dress because their body is only to be shared with their husbands, it also shows that they are modest enough to cover up instead of streaking or walking around in clothes more revealing than underwear itself! I find too many of you people who refuse to use the brain in your cranium!
In Response

by: John from: San Francisco,CA
May 05, 2010 16:47
No, you are the fool living 1000 years in the past. Muslim cover up because if they don't they will be beaten by Muslim men. Don't distort the facts claiming the women wear the Niqab it because they want to.
In Response

by: Sergei from: Uzbekistan
May 10, 2010 19:55
Liviig in uzbekistan and traveling much in the region i have learned that the desire of muslim man to keep thier wifes modest by wearing a Hijab doesn't conflict with thier desire to sleep with prostitues (muslim ones at that ) at every oppertunity. i work in tourism and i see all the "good muslim" tourists from pakistan, iran and saudi arabia comming to our country for sex tours. they wake up at noon every day after touring all the brothels in tashkent, never go to mosque, never go to see islamic sites (a we have alot of sites to offer).
so keep on wearing the Hijab, but dont lie to yourselves
In Response

by: Ufadan from: Bashkortostan
May 06, 2010 13:51
Niqab is a form of religion human rights. Our religion, Islam, recomended hijab or niqab for muslim women. I believe that personal violance in Tajikistan will be stop.

by: Jamila
May 05, 2010 08:45
The ban on headscarves has to be removed. It is not only against the Tajik constitution, but equally the cause of increase in the number of hijab and niqab wearers. This was one of the silliest laws ever constructed by the Tajik government. It was even allowed during the communist times to wear a headscarf, how is destroying one of Tajikistan's most commonly practiced traditions going to benefit anyone?
In Response

by: Turgai Sangar
May 05, 2010 15:40
I agree although I think that you confuse the traditional Tajik headscarf (which was indeed tolerated in the USSR) and hijab, whihc are two different things. Either case: the women who wear hijab thes days are much more courageous and progressive than these half-naked bimbos who are basically slaves of global pop culture and hedonistic totalitarianism.

by: Anonymous
May 05, 2010 08:47
This may be the cause of ever increasing Arab influence in the country
In Response

by: Turgai Sangar
May 05, 2010 15:35
Well who says that Islam is an 'Arab monopoly'? Its origins are indeed situated in the Arabic peninsula, the liturgic ligua franca is indeed Arabic and the main holy places Mecca and Medina are in Arabia; but Arabs form only 20% of the Muslim Ummah these days (e.g. Pew Research Centre, "Mapping the global Muslim population", 2009, http://pewforum.org/uploadedfiles/Topics/Demographics/Muslimpopulation.pdf).

Besides, Islam's strongest dynamics today take place outside of the Arab world. So to say that Islam equals 'Arabism' is as inadequate as to claim that Christianity is still a Judaean-Galilean or European religion.

http://vozrojdenie.crimea.ua/saqofat/364-otkuda-vzyalsya.html

For the rest, the whole hysteria about hijab says much more about the uncertainty in secular societies, and is also something that is to distract people's attention from the bankrupcy and decay of the secular ideologies.

For those interested:

Jilbab and the Muslim Woman's Dress Code
http://www.khilafah.com/index.php/the-khilafah/social-system/576-jilbab-and-the-muslim-womans-dress-code

An introduction to the Islamic Social System
http://www.khilafah.com/index.php/the-khilafah/social-system/387-an-introduction-to-the-social-system

by: Kiumars from: Your Neighbourhood
May 06, 2010 02:08
RE: Fourth-year university student Ganjina Sharifova was expelled from Tajik National University on April 26.

So now she has every reason to pick up a gun and fight for her rights! Human-rights of being free to wear what you want! I wish her luck. We all have to stand up to the corruption that the western world imposes on us. If she went nude on one of the many American porn sites nobody would have objected!

by: Muslim from: Tajikistan
May 07, 2010 14:52
I think muslims should wear hijab . it is better to wear hijab than the dress which all body is open to see .
tajikistan is a muslim country the gowerment does not have right to stop hijab
now we are living in 21 centry we should open our main to see all the world what is going on.
thanks

by: Mariam from: Ohio
May 07, 2010 17:08
We have a lots of Takjik people in Afghanistan and they hate hijab. They don't even want to be Muslims. Now that they are baning hija is no suprise to me. They are an embressing naction that are associated with Muslims along with Ubzik and Iran. They are total different people then the rest of Muslims. May Allah (SWA) guide them on the streight path along with us. If not Good Luck to them. Like I said they have no love for Islam, and they don't even want to be recirezed as Muslims. Especally Iran, because they are Shia, when they come to America they become athes (don't believe in God) not all but some. I hope that they beocme Sunni and find trur peace and good Muslims. because they are now killing innocent Afghans in Iran for no reason. And I pray that Allah (SWA) teaches them a great lesson, and punish them for the deaths for the inniocent Afghans. GO TO HELL IRAN!!!!
In Response

by: Elza from: Dallas
May 12, 2010 00:49
@Miriam, I suppose it is a sign of a truly peaceful and good Muslim to wish hell for others?

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