Battles around hijab in Russia. Prohibitions and murders

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Russian Hijabi Sudents

The story of several little Muslim girls from Stavropol region of Russia fighting for hijab flew round the country. All started with the decision of secondary school’s administration in small village Kara-Tyube in October, 2012 to forbid for 5 Muslim girls to attend lessons in hijab. The director of the school justified this decision by reference to the facts, that school is secular institution and that hijab mismatches standard school uniform. 

Indignant parents of the girls filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office on the decision of school administration. On their opinion such prohibition on wearing hijab in school violates the right of their daughters on access to education and freedom of religion. This incident involved to the orbit of burst out scandal around hijab almost all Russian society, media, federal authorities, including President of Russia Vladimir Putin.

Official positions

As for reaction of Russian officials, Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to North Caucasus Alexander Hloponin supported the decision of Kara-Tyube’s school administration. He even promised to provide a governmental protection to director of school, if she faces “threats from Muslims”.

Russian Minister of Education Dmitry Livanov, on the contrary, stated about potential possibility for Muslim girls to attend schools in hijab. By his opinion, “there is a space for compromises at every school, which can guarantee both – secular principles of education and following to cultural traditions by schoolchildren”. 

But after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his opinion on hijab Livanov rapidly changed his position on this matter. Thus Putin supported decision of Kara-Tyube’s school administration and recommended to Russian bureaucrats to take their cue from European countries where wearing hijab is punished by high fines.

Bloodshed around hijab

Than the President of Caucasian Republic of Ingushetia within Russia, general of intelligence service Yunus-Bek Evkurov said that Ingushi authorities will not allow attending schools in hijab. He argued his position by the statement that schools in Russia have special uniform and by apprehension that permission of hijab can raise a problem of religious extremism.

“If we yield to this claim, tomorrow another can appear with the claim to allow paranja in schools or to separate boys and girls at lessons”, – Evkurov said. It worth to remind that Evkurov took such strict position after Putin’s comments on hijab. Before that Evkurov’s position on wearing hijab in such completely Muslim region of Russia as Ingushetia was more flexible.

Meanwhile the attempts to ban hijab for schoolgirls in Dagestan – the most Islamized region of Russia – have led to bloody consequences. For example here directors of two schools – Patimat Magomedova in Shamhal village and Sidikullah Ahmedov in Sovetskoe village had been killed by Jihadi groups. They both tried to prohibit for Muslim girls to attend lessons with covered heads.

Russian Hijabi Sudents

People of the Book and compromise

It worth to mention that some representatives of Russian Orthodox Church also took side of Muslims in this confrontation. For example, deacon Andrey Kuraev stated that he supports Muslim struggle for hijab. 

He argued his position by such words: “My position is not to make a rod for other’s back. If the Orthodox believers will support liberals, requiring to prohibit Muslim symbols in schools, our Orthodox symbols like crucifixes and copy-books with images of churches can also fall under the prohibition”.

At the same time Mufti of Stavropol region Muhammad Rahimov stated that school is secular institution. “I insist on wearing triangular headscarves by Muslim schoolgirls but not complete hijabs. And without hijabs we have a lot of problems, – he said.

Thus trade-off decision was found after wide consultations of school administration and Stavropol region’s Mufti and Imams. The parents of Muslim girls agreed to allow to their daughters to attend school in triangular headscarves.

Muslim society reply

Against this background it’s not possible to say that Russian Muslims are notable for active position in the face of attacking their own freedoms and rights. Thus even the prohibition of Prophetic Sirah and collection of Hadiths by Russian regional court didn’t urge Muslim society of Russia to stand up for these key sources of Islamic religion.

However a group of Islamic activists in Russia after prohibition of hijab in Stavropol region petitioned the President Vladimir Putin for non-admission of infringement of Muslims’ rights and freedoms. During two weeks more than 8 000 people from different regions of Russia signed this petition. 

All these collected signatures with sketches of school uniform for Muslim girls designed by Russian designers were handed over to the Presidency Administration of Russia and Ministry of Education of Stavropol region. 

Meanwhile Stavropol region officials promises to bring soon into schools obligatory uniform for all schoolchildren “in order to provide secular character of education”. This uniform for schoolgirls stipulates skirts at knee level and non-covered heads. What are going to do parents of Muslim schoolgirls is not known yet.


Dr. Ruslan Kurbanov, senior research fellow of Institute for Oriental Studies of Russian Academy of Sciences


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