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Azerbaijani Villagers Protest Hijab Ban In Schools

Azerbaijanis Defend Hijab During Ashura
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WATCH: Addressing the large crowd, religious leaders spoke out against a recent government ruling forbidding girls from wearing the Muslim hijab in school, chanting, "We'd sooner die than give up the hijab!"

BAKU -- Several thousand people taking part in an Ashura ceremony in a village near Baku have protested a ban on the wearing of hijabs in schools, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Villagers chanted slogans against the hijab restrictions for secondary school students during the December 16 Ashura ceremony in the village of Nardaran.

Ashura commemorates the death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Hussein.

Villagers also cursed unnamed officials who they say deprive them of electricity, destroy mosques, and order a reduction in the loudness of the Azan, the call to prayer.

They also expressed support for the Shi'ite Islamist group Hizballah in Lebanon and criticized unspecified "U.S. wrongdoing" in the Middle East, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

Azerbaijani media reported widely earlier this month Education Minister Misir Mardanov's statement that wearing the hijab in schools constitutes a violation of the country's law on education and should therefore be banned. Mardanov stressed at the same time that "we are all Muslims. ... The ministry is not demanding that anyone abandon [his or her] faith."

Hundreds of believers gathered on December 10 in front of the Education Ministry to protest the hijab restrictions, according to the online daily

RFE/RL correspondents today filmed dozens of police officers deployed outside the ministry in anticipation of further protests.