Tajikistan to ban hijab as restrictions on religious freedom continues

CIHANGIR YILDIRIM
ISTANBUL
Published 17.09.2017 23:09

Tajik lawmakers have approved a law that obliges individuals and organizations "to adhere to traditional and national Tajik clothing and culture," a move widely seen as an effort to discourage people from wearing the hijab and Islamic clothing in the predominantly Muslim country. The Lower House of Parliament passed the bill on Aug. 23, and the bill is expected to be approved by the Upper House of Parliament and signed into law by Tajik President Emomoli Rahmon.

On Sept. 6, text message notifications were sent to some 6 million users from private mobile phone companies in Tajikistan, calling on them to obey the new law that was passed in a new bill that makes the wearing of Tajik national clothing obligatory at traditional gatherings. The text message, written by the State Committee, reads: "Observe Tajik traditional clothes. … Respect traditional clothes and ‘Let's make it a tradition to wear traditional clothes'."

According to Tajik officials, in August more than 8,000 hijab-wearing women were stopped in public places across the Tajik capital of Dushanbe by state officials who pressured them to wear head scarves in the style of "traditional national clothing," which refers to tying the scarf in a knot behind the head in a way that leaves the front of the neck exposed. The new bill does not introduce a penalty for breaking the rule, but some have claimed that fines could be introduced at a later date.

Tajik Minister of Culture Shamsiddin Orumbekzoda said that Islamic dress is "really dangerous," indicating that everyone looks at women wearing hijabs in the country with concern, worried that they could be hiding something under their hijab, Radio Free Europe reported.

President Rahmon's first criticism was voiced over the issue in 2015 when a campaign was launched against the hijab. Heads of institutions demanded that their employees not wear hijabs to work. "Wearing the hijab and blindly copying a culture that is foreign to us is not a sign of having high moral and ethical standards for women. We have many examples of women wearing the hijab who take illegal drugs, participate in human trafficking and other things that are far from Tajik culture and the honor of Tajik women. The hijab was a sign of poor education and incivility," he was quoted as saying in 2015. Since May 2016, officials have closed down scores of shops that sell women's religious clothing that does not conform to values that the Tajik government calls "national traditions."

Tajik Justice Minister Rustam Shohmurod said in June 2016, that "foreign" names, especially Arabic-sounding names, have caused divisions in Tajik society. Previously, in May 2015, representatives debated whether to ban Arabic names and Arabic words in Tajik as part of an ongoing campaign against Islam. Names derived from prominent figures in Islam, such as Sumayyah, Aisha and Asiya, were once almost nonexistent in Tajikistan, a Muslim-majority country, but have become the most popular names for girls in recent years. Muhammad, Yusuf and Abu-Bakr are among the most popular names for boys. Some Tajik members of parliament were reportedly demanding that existing Arabic-sounding names should be changed to Tajik-Persian names.

In 2011, a law was approved that banned children under the age of 18 from attending Friday prayers in the predominantly Muslim country. Tajiks under the age of 35 were banned from attending Hajj in 2015 by the State Committee for Religious Affairs (SCRA). In June, Tajik officials announced that citizens under the age of 40 are banned from performing this year's annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

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