, Azerbaijan
Dec 5 2007

`Zerkalo': Wearing Hijab (Headscarf) to be Prohibited

At least in education centers, as envisaged by the draft law `On

Center on protection of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience
protests against prohibition on allowing girls wearing headscarf to
studies envisaged in new draft law `On education' of Azerbaijan.

`We even don't want to believe that the law will be adopted in such
form. If hijab is prohibited in educational centers, thousands of
people will be deprived of such human rights as getting education,
observance of outward appearance in accordance with their religion',
Ilgar Ibrahimoglu said to `Trend'.

One of the items of new draft law `On education' reads: `Students,
teachers and other employees shall not be allowed to attend any
education centers of the Republic of Azerbaijan in headscarves
(hijab, yashmak etc.) and other religious clothing'. To date citizens
enjoyed freedom of choice connected with wearing headscarf and
attending studies. Accordingly to Ibrahimoglu, new item prohibiting
wearing hijab is directed against rights of people and it contradicts
to principles of Constitution which ensures freedom of religion; the
item also contradicts to requirements of international-legal
documents to which Azerbaijan is a party.

`If such law is adopted then parliament will demonstrate total
disrespect to national and moral values, and Azerbaijan will turn to
be in regressive state from the point of view of violation of human
rights: said he. The above mentioned center having addressed to
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Milli Mejlis (National
Parliament), asked to remove this item from the draft and to provide
protection of the rights of believers. Addressed to society, civil
society structures, center called to assist in removing the item
which violates human rights. Accordingly to chairman of Milli Mejlis
commission on science and education, Shamsaddin Hajiyeva, religious
clothing shouldn't be worn in education centers. Azerbaijan is
secular state and accordingly to Constitution religion is separated
>From state, he said.

Human rights activist, Saida Gojamanli, holds that prohibition on
wearing hijab is violation of the rights of believers; she sees
serious danger in these innovations. `If hijab is prohibited by law
confrontation may raise in our country. Believers can leave our
country. To date Azerbaijan was left for political persecutions. If
citizens ask political asylum from other countries because of
violation of religious rights, Azerbaijan will be disgraced in the
eyes of world community', Gojamanli said.

Accordingly to her, developed countries of the world do not prohibit
wearing hijab in educational centers, and Azerbaijan should take use
of this experience.

As head of section of the State Committee for the Work with Religious
Associations of Azerbaijan, Gunduz Ismailov, told `Trend' in
Azerbaijan everyone has right to live and to wear in accordance with
his or her religion. However, in educational institutions hijab
related issue should be approached in frames of the law. `In
Azerbaijan there is decision on the use of the one uniform in
educational institutions, and everyone should follow it. That is why
it is wrong to attach religious tint to hijab wearing, to present it
as violation of freedom of conscience', - G. Ismailov said.
Unlike human rights activist, representative of State Committee holds
that prohibition on wearing hijab won't cause any danger in the
country. Accordingly to official information of the State Committee
for the Work with Religious Association, Muslims make up 96% of
population of Azerbaijan, of them 65% belongs to Shii current and 35%
- to sunni one.

Current law on education of the Republic of Azerbaijan was adopted in
1992. Since 1995 parliament started preparation new law, however,
over 12 years, it hasn't been adopted. It is expected, that December
28, at the last meeting of autumn session of the parliament, new
draft law will be presented for discussion.

Thus, those who advocate prohibition on wearing hijab are referring
to article 18 of the Constitution of Azerbaijan, following to which
religion is separated from state, all religions are equal before law
and state education system is of secular nature.

It is marvelous how our authorities create additional problems for
themselves. Yes, actually Azerbaijan is secular state and state
educational system should be of secular nature. However, arguments of
those who advocate prohibition on wearing hijab are beneath
criticism. First of all what relation form of wearing has to the
issue as part of Muslim women believes that it is their duty to wear
hijab? Does form of wearing show secular or religious nature of
education system? It is curriculum approved by Ministry of Education
that defines whether the said nature is of secular or of religious.
Moreover, it is not clear how hijab being headscarf can impede the
use of one uniform in all educational institutions? Does Ministry of
Education really intend to put the same caps or hats with ear-flaps
on our children just like in army?

Secondly, if so, then our presidents shouldn't take an oath on
Constitution and Quran. But hardly someone will evaluate the fact
that our presidents take oath on Quran during inauguration as the
showing of religious nature of Azerbaijani state system.

Thirdly, actually with such restrictions Milli Mejlis will deprive
Azerbaijani citizens the right to education as any believing Muslim
women will face dilemma: to observe what is required by Islam, or to
get education. We should confess that the choice is not easy. In
short, such measures are gross violations of constitutional rights of
citizens. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion not connecting
it with restriction of other rights of citizens including right to
education. And it turns out to be that if someone wants to be
faithful Muslim observing all rituals, then he or she should give up
the rights to education. And without it, in some regions of our
country problems concerning getting secondary education by girls
raise starting from definite age.

Fourthly, such prohibitions contradict to obligations of Azerbaijan
before Council of Europe. As known, one of such obligations is
adoption of the law on alternative service. That is, citizens of
Azerbaijan who, for some serious reasons, including religious ones,
don't want to serve in army should legally enjoy the right to
alternative service. Azerbaijan is ready to adopt such law. Delay is
explained by frozen Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict on the Upper

It is interesting that not Islam but some Christian currents and some
other faiths prohibit to take arms. It turns to be that Azerbaijan
even being secular state is ready to take peculiarities of other
faiths into account and to present them to their representatives
living in Azerbaijan. But it doesn't concern followers of Islam. And
at last, fifthly, apply of such prohibitions is not efficient from
the point of view of political expediency. Most probably, with such
prohibitions authorities are trying to restrict influence of radical
Islamic groups on youth.

It should be taken into consideration that prohibition measures of
such kind as rule have converse effect.

We can assume that after introduction of the mentioned prohibition
sympathies of believers to radical currents which in fact come for
the change of secular nature of Azerbaijani state will raise. First
of all due to the fact that moderate Muslim believers will directly
connect restrictions of their rights with secular nature of our
state. If any rules are not convenient for part of population, its
striving for establishing the other, acceptable ones is natural. And
such prohibition measures will be met with hostility by overwhelming
Muslim majority.

At the same time authorities will oppose all clergy and all existing
Muslim communities. Today some will show discontent openly, the
others will bear anger and will wait for the better moment. But
combat religion with prohibition measures is not fruitful as there
exist net of mosques where believers will gather and time from time
they will show their discontent. And we won't close mosques

However, it is not possible to say that in education centers there is
no problem relating to believers. The problem is that some
believers-teachers and students, by the way, are actually carrying
out religious propaganda with the use of psychological pressure on
surrounding people. And it is phenomenon that should be combated in
legislative way...

R. Mirkadirov i-bin/e-cms/vis/ 13&g

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress