Azerbaijan: Prohibiting wearing the hijab in schools?

Zerkalo via GINSC
Debate on the proposed banning of the headscarf in educational institutions. A right to secularism? Or a right to education?
"At least in education centers, as envisaged by the draft law “On Education” the Center on Protection of Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience protests against the 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, the 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.

According to her, developed countries of the world do not prohibit wearing hijab in educational centers, and Azerbaijan should take use of this experience. [exceptions include France and Turkey, ed.]

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 activists, representatives of the 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 the Sunni one.

The current law on education of the Republic of Azerbaijan was adopted in 1992. Since 1995 parliament started the preparation of a 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 Garabagh.

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 everywhere. 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 this is a phenomenon that should be combated in legislative way…"

By: R. Mirkadirov

16 January 2008

Original source:

English translation: Gender Informational Network of South Caucasus (GINSC)(