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Debate on allowing hijabs at schools reignited in Russia

February 06, 2015, 16:25 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© ITAR-TASS/Sergei Uzakov

MOSCOW, February 6. /TASS/. One of Russia’s Muslim leaders has asked President Vladimir Putin to allow girls to wear hijabs — a traditional veil that covers the head and chest — at schools, and this once again has reignited debate on the admissibility of wearing religious headwear in educational institutions. The authorities say they are definitely against it. Representatives of other religions express different opinions. Experts note that in this case, the government is not against hijabs, but rather opposes radical Islam, representatives of which are especially sensitive in this matter.

Rawil Gaynetdin, head of the Religious Department of Russian Muslims in the European Part of Russia, has recently asked President Vladimir Putin to allow Muslim girls to attend school in hijabs. The reason behind this lies in the ban on hijabs at schools adopted in several Russian regions. In particular, on February 11, Russia’s Supreme Court will consider a complaint on a religious headwear ban from Muslim families in the Russian republic of Mordovia.

In a letter to President Putin, Gaynetdin says that "there is nothing specifically or defiantly religious" in Muslim women’s hijabs. "This is not a religious sign or challenge to society," he said. "Intolerance, anti-democratism and disrespect to the Eurasian tradition of peoples’ friendship are being enforced on us from abroad."

In September 2012, wearing hijabs at schools was first banned in Russia’s Stavropol region. In July 2013, the Supreme Court upheld the ban. Speaking about this issue, President Putin said that there never was a tradition of wearing hijabs at schools, even in predominantly Muslim regions of Russia.

However, there has been an increase lately in the number of conflict situations over wearing hijabs. In Russia’s westernmost city of Kaliningrad, a bus driver refused to take two women wearing religious headwear. In Moscow’s State Medical University, where a strict dress code was introduced last autumn, students were not allowed to attend lectures in hijabs, triggering great controversy.

The authorities hold a consolidated position on this issue. "For today, we do not see any grounds for reviewing the legislature… that allows only secular clothes," Russian Minister of Education Dmitry Livanov said on Wednesday. "Our schools are secular, with a strict dress code, and all schoolchildren should follow these rules, without any exceptions," said Irina Manuilova, deputy head of the State Duma Committee on Education.

Teachers agree with this. The less differences there are in what children wear, the better, said Efim Rachevsky, director of Moscow Educational Center Tsaritsyno. "Hijab should rather be in schoolgirls’ minds. If the code of an educational institution states that uniform at school does not envisage religious headwear, there should be no questions about it," Rachevsky told Novye Izvestiya daily.

Representatives of other religions have different opinions on this matter. "People have the right to express their faith like this (by wearing religious headwear) even if some people don’t like women in hijabs," Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Russian Orthodox Church's Department on Relations Between Church and Society, told Business-FM radio station. "An attempt to use secular society to prevent people from behaving in accordance with their faith is a pseudo-legal fraud," he added.

Rabbi Zinoviy Kogan, chairman of the Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Associations, says that demonstrating religious symbols in educational institutions is inappropriate for representatives of any religion. "When people go to a mosque, or a synagogue, or a church, they can wear what they should, but at schools it is unacceptable," Kogan told TASS.

The problem of wearing hijab has been raised by those families that support radical Islam in the regions where Wahhabis are especially active, expert on Islam Roman Silantyev told TASS. "In this case, it’s not a fight against hijabs. It’s more of a fight against demonstrating symbols associated with radical Islam. In Chechnya, for instance, hijab is not associated with terrorism," he said.

Alexander Verkhovsky, director of SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis, agrees with this. "Issues of secular education are used as an instrument here," he said. According to Verkhovsky, the government is "mostly concerned about national security in domestic policy, about everything that can be associated with radical Islam in any way."

TASS may not share the opinions of its contributors