CAIRO – A decision by a school headmaster in Russia’s North Caucasus region to ban five Muslim girls from attending classes over wearing hijab (headscarf) is inviting outrage from the Muslim community.
“That is unacceptable in our religion,” Ravil Kaibaliyev, the father of one of the children, told Izvestia daily newspaper.Five Muslim students were banned from attending classes in their school in the village of Kara-Tyube in the southern Stavropol region last week over wearing hijab.
Though they were initially allowed to attend their school in September while donning hijab, they were told later that they would not be allowed in unless they took off their headscarf.
School principal Marina Savchenko defended the decision, saying that wearing hijab violates the school policy, which requires students to attend classes in secular clothes.
“We didn’t insist that the girls shouldn’t wear hijab at all, but suggested they replace it with a headscarf while during the school classes,” she told Izvestia.
Russia’s Education Ministry backed the school’s administration, saying that schools are allowed to adopt their own regulations regarding uniform and rules of conduct.
But the school’s argument was rejected by Russian children's rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov who said that the school in Kara-Tyube “is clearly overreacting.”
“There are no common rules regarding pupils’ appearance,” Astakhov said, adding that in Western countries, similar conflicts are usually resolved in favor of tolerance.
“And a hijab in this case is not some indecent item.”
Kaibaliyev, along with other parents, filed complaints with the district prosecutor’s office, complaining that the school had violated their constitutional rights to education and freedom of religion.
The prosecutor will issue a legal assessment of the incident within 30 days, and take appropriate measures if the school’s headmaster was found to have broken the law.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
The hijab ban won flaks from Russian scholars for violating the right of Muslim students to practice religion.
“In a heavily Muslim district girls are not allowed to attend schools in headscarves. Parents of the Muslim girls do not let the girls attend schools without scarves,” the spokesperson of the muftis council in Neftekumsk district of Stavropol said in a statement cited by RIA Novosti.
The muftis expressed concern about the girls' academic performance, warning that the weakness in the school program will lead the custodial agency to intervene.
“The parents emphasize that in general teachers do not discriminate the girls on their religion,” the spokesman said.
“But they are following the instructions of higher authorities.”
The muftis’ council noted this was the sixth group of parents who had complained about such discriminatory practices.
Residents of the Arzgirsk and Step districts have also filed similar complaints.
“I would like to speak about the shortsightedness of our officials who demonstrate religious intolerance,” the statement said.
“For example, about 3,000 people, mostly Muslims, mostly ethnic Nogais and Dagestanis live in the village of Karatub.”
The Russian Federation is home to some 23 million Muslims in the north of the Caucasus and southern republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan.Islam is Russia's second-largest religion representing roughly 15 percent of its 145 million predominantly Orthodox population.
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