CAIRO – After years of restrictions on hijab wearing and mosque prayers, the fall of long-standing President Zine al-Abidine Ben Alis is reviving hopes for a new revival of Islam in Tunisia.
“Tunisia is emerging from a dark age that hit all political and social realms as well as religious freedoms,” Professor Noureddine Mokhtar el-Khademi told OnIslam.net in a phone interview on Friday, January 21.
“Religiosity is undoubtedly is an essential feature of the Tunisian people which was weakened over the past years.”
Ben Ali fled Tunisia to Saudi Arabia last week after weeks of deadly street protests over poverty and unemployment.
Under his 23-year rule, Tunisians were banned from wearing hijab, an obligatory code of dress in Islam, in public places.
Mosques were opened shortly before the prayer time and closed immediately after the prayers.
Muslim worshippers were also banned from praying in mosques outside alloted times.
Several political and Islamic groups were banned under Ben Ali, including Ennahddha (Awakening) movement of exiled leader Rached Ghannouchi.
The caretaker government of Mohamed Ghannounci on Thursday approved a geneal amnesty bill that would free political prisoners.
It also agreed to legalize all banned political groups and ordered the assets of the ruling RCD party seized.
Observers believe that Ben Ali’s ouster will usher in a new era of Islamic revival in the North African country.
“(After Ben Ali’s fall), we will see now religiousity flourishing in the future,” said Khademi, a professor at the University of Ez-Zitouna’s High Institute of Religious Rules.
The signs of Islam revival were quickly noticed in Tunisia after Ben Ali.
Now, the state-run television broadcast the Adhan, the call for prayers, followed by some Hadiths of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him).
Tunisians were also reportedly flocking mosques at any time without any restrictions.
“Why should’nt mosques be open for prayers as well as for religious lessons,” Khademi asked.
“Mosques should be open to worshippers around the clock,” he suggested.
Observers also believe that hijab-clad women would be able to keep their headscarf in public places.
In 1981, then president Habib Bourguiba ratified a law banning women from wearing hijab in state offices.
Worse still, Ben Ali’s government issued in the 1980s and 1990s more restrictive enactments including the notorious 102 law, which considers hijab a “sign of extremism” and banned it.“The coming stage in Tunisian will introduce a new era that will see more freedoms of religion, speech, and dress,” Khademi said.