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Kazakh Students Win Fight Against Hijab Ban

The wearing od Islamic head coverings has increasingly become an issue in Kazakhstan, especially in schools and universities.
AQTOBE, Kazakhstan -- Officials at a university in northwestern Kazakhstan have lifted a hijab ban for students after eight female students threatened to sue the school, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

The students told RFE/RL on December 8 that they had been unable to attend classes at Saqtaghan Baishev University, as a duty officer at the school's entrance was preventing them from entering the university because of their head scarves, or hijabs.

The students received help on the issue from the Kazakh Bureau for Human Rights when its lawyer, Aghyzbek Tolegenov, met with university Rector Khalel Khusainov last week.

Tolegenov told Khusainov that the university's internal regulations contradicted the Kazakh Constitution and reminded him that "our society should fight extremism, but not Islam."

Tolegenov told RFE/RL on December 12 that he and human rights experts from the nongovernmental organization Coalition for Defending Human Rights and Freedoms started a campaign on "lifting the hijab ban" at the university.

University officials then held a series of discussions involving teachers and students that lasted until December 10. Aqtobe Oblast Imam Abdimutalip Daurenbekov also took part in the discussions.

Daurenbekov told RFE/RL that it was decided that students can attend classes with head scarves as of December 12.

'Do Not Cover Up In Black'

The university's deputy rector, Bayan Orynbaeva, refused to comment on the issue last week and told RFE/RL's correspondent to leave the university. But she agreed to talk to RFE/RL on December 12 and said the main problem was the color of the students' head scarves and dresses.

Perizat Moldasheva said what she wears is traditional Kazakh dress.
Perizat Moldasheva said what she wears is traditional Kazakh dress.
"They were all black, which is not a traditional [color for] Kazakhs to wear," Orynbaeva said.

However, one of the eight female students who made the initial complaint, Shynar Mantaiqyzy, told RFE/RL that none of them ever wore either black dresses or black head scarves.

"Kazakhs traditionally say, 'Do not cover up in black,' something that we all follow. Our clothes and head scarves were always of different colors," she said.

Another student, Perizat Moldasheva, told RFE/RL that "what we wear is not a hijab, what we wear is called a head scarf -- a traditional part of a Kazakh woman's dress."

The Kazakh Constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to practice any religion freely and without any restrictions. Amendments to the law on religions do not say anything regarding the head scarf or other religious dress.

Read more in Kazakh here