UZBEKISTAN: Is headscarf ban "enlightened" Islam?
Insisting that all women who wear a Muslim headscarf (the hijab) have links with terrorists, the authorities in Lagman, part of Karshi in southern Uzbekistan, have banned the public wearing of the hijab, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. City authorities have claimed to Forum 18 that "anyone in Uzbekistan can wear whatever they consider appropriate," even though Uzbekistan's religion law bans the public wearing of undefined "religious clothing", which attacks both Muslims and Hare Krishna devotees. Abdurakhman Erkayev, head of the city's secretariat for social and economic issues went on to tell Forum 18 that "We have asked the mahalla authorities to explain to people that the essence of Islam in Uzbekistan has never been distinguished by fanaticism and extremism. We feel that it is very important to promote this form of "enlightened" Islam."
The new ban in the Lagman mahalla of Karshi was enforced after both the terrorist attacks in Tashkent at the end of March and beginning of April, and was reiterated after the 30 July attacks. Straight after the terrorist attacks all the mahalla committees held meetings with residents, following an order from the city authorities. Mahallas are the smallest terriitorial division in Uzbekistan. (See F18News 20 May 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=58 for explanation of the role of mahallas). Mahalla officials have previously been used by the police in actions against religious believers (see 16 August 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=395).
At the meeting held at the Lagman mahalla, the head of the mahalla committee, Kuzi Jurayev, said that all women who wore the hijab had links with terrorists and that in future he would not allow women to wear this sort of clothing in his mahalla. Sharipova and Baikhanova claim that meetings have been held in the mahalla fortnightly since then, and each time the mahalla administration reiterates that it is unacceptable for women to appear in public places wearing the hijab.
The ban has a prehistory as, under Article 14 of Uzbekistan's religion law, the wearing of religious clothing is forbidden in public. The term "religious clothing" is not defined in the law but, in practice, the ban mainly affects Muslims, men being fearful of appearing obviously devout by wearing a beard and clothes that are traditional to Islamic cultures, and women fearing that wearing the hijab in public will expose them to discrimination or worse. The "religious clothing" ban also affects
religious minorities, Hare Krishna devotees having complained to Forum 18 that they cannot wear robes or a sari in public (see F18News 16 July 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=105).
In Karshi, Forum 18 has been told by human rights activist Tulkin Karayev of two specific examples of Muslim women in the Lagman mahalla, Gavkhar Sharipova and Dirofruz Baikhanova, believing that they must stay at home because of the ban on public wearing of the hijab.
"No-one is stopping women from wearing the hijab, but after the terrorist attacks in March and April we received an order from the city administration recommending that we carry out preventative work with women to deter them from wearing the hijab in public," Tulkin Karayev was told on 26 August in Karshi by the head of the Lagman mahalla committee, Dilor Norov.
On 27 August, the head of the secretariat for social and economic issues at the Karshi city administration, Abdurakhman Erkayev, admitted to Forum 18 that the city had instructed the mahalla committees to carry out "preventative work" among the population. "We have asked the mahalla authorities to explain to people that the essence of Islam in Uzbekistan has never been distinguished by fanaticism and extremism. We feel that it is very important to promote this form of "enlightened" Islam. But we have never tried to dictate what people should wear. Anyone in Uzbekistan can wear whatever they consider appropriate," Erkayev told Forum 18.
Karayev has insisted to Forum 18, however, that "the city administration has given mahalla committees a secret instruction to try and persuade women not to wear the hijab in public. Whether the heads of mahalla committees in general are trying to put as much pressure on women as the Lagman mahalla is another matter. But since the terrorist attacks in April a lot of women have complained to me that going out in public wearing the hijab is now being interpreted as a distinct challenge to the authorities' policy," Karayev told Forum 18 on 27 August in Tashkent.
For more background information see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=105
A printer-friendly map of Uzbekistan is available at
27 August 2004
Laziz Saidov, a Muslim who is under arrest apparently just for being devout, has made a formal written complaint to the Uzbek Prosecutor General, Rashid Kadyrov, stating that the police used torture to obtain a confession of possessing leaflets from the banned Hizb-ut-Tahir party, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Saidov, who is still in jail, states that the police manacled his arms and legs, and beat him on the shins and head until he agreed to sign a confession. The head of the detention cells where Saidov is being held, Panzhi Nazarov, suggested to Forum 18 that "maybe he [Saidov] was beaten up in Guzar rather than here?" and said that he could not either confirm or refute information that some Muslims had been tortured.
23 August 2004
Police have raided a Jehovah's Witness meeting in Samarkand [Samarqand], without any legal documentation, closely questioning participants in the meeting under great psychological pressure, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The police told participants that they would be fined under Article 241 "breaking the law on giving religious instruction" of Uzbekistan's administrative code, and the internal affairs administration told Forum 18 that "we were acting within the law". Both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Uzbekistan has freely signed, and Uzbekistan's own religion law contradict this claim.
20 August 2004
In a trial of 12 Muslims in the Fergana [Farghona] Valley, apparently on trial for being devout, Judge Gozikhon Yakhyakhojayev has refused to release the names of the accused, telling Forum 18 News Service that "I myself have not yet got to grips with this case, and I feel it is simply too early to give any details to the press." In another trial, of 2 devout Muslims, his colleague Judge Ismailov has been accused by defence lawyers of joining the prosecution in trying to secure convictions, and of not allowing defence lawyers to question witnesses. In both cases, Forum 18 has been told that the ordinary police and NSS secret police have been accused of planting evidence on those accused.