KYRGYZSTAN: Islamic headscarves arouse school director's anger
Six Muslims whose daughters have encountered problems for wearing the Islamic headscarf, the hijab, in school in Karasu have appealed for help to the imam of the town's central mosque, his son Roshad Kamalov told Forum 18 News Service. School director Khalima Ibragimova invited the girls to the staff room, where she and a police officer with responsibility for minors searched the girls' bags and confiscated religious literature they found there. Ibragimova then told the girls she would exclude them from school if they did not stop wearing the hijab. Ibragimova defended her actions, telling Forum 18 she could see nothing unlawful in them. She maintained that school uniform does not allow girls to wear the hijab. However, Kyrgyzstan's senior religious affairs official disagrees. "The schoolgirls have the right to wear the hijab to school," Mumurzak Mamayusupov told Forum 18.
Speaking to Forum 18 in Karasu on 10 May, Ibragimova defended her actions, saying she could see nothing unlawful in them. She also categorically denied that she was following instructions from her superiors. "I am led only by my own experience of working as a school teacher. There is a school uniform in Kyrgyzstan that is obligatory for all schoolchildren," she insisted. When Forum 18 commented that the girls attended school in their school uniform, and that the school rules place no restriction on head gear, Ibragimova replied: "If the law on education states that schoolgirls have the right to wear the hijab, then I will be governed by that."
She also claimed that the girls' parents were members of the Islamist party Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and that soon after the incident someone had scattered leaflets around the school from that organisation, which is banned in Kyrgyzstan.
"A new campaign in the battle against Hizb-ut-Tahrir has now been launched in Kyrgyzstan," the director of the international Islamic centre, the former mufti of Kyrgyzstan Saijan Kamaluddin, told Forum 18 in Karasu on 10 May. "Several officials in rural areas are trying to gain favour and do things they were not asked to do." He quoted what he said was a common Uzbek saying about such people: "He was asked to bring a tyubeteika (skull-cap), but he brought a head."
Reports of threats to schoolgirls who wear the hijab come as other schools in southern Kyrgyzstan are cracking down on Muslim pupils who pray during school hours (see separate F18News article).
Kyrgyzstan's senior religious affairs official denies there is any nationwide campaign against Islamic practice in schools. "I categorically deny that there have been any orders from above to expose schoolchildren who follow Islam," the head of the committee for religious affairs, Mumurzak Mamayusupov, told Forum 18 on 12 May from the capital Bishkek. "This is an initiative of local officials. The schoolgirls have the right to wear the hijab to school." He said his office had already heard about the cases known to Forum 18. "But unfortunately we did not know the addresses of the schools where this was happening. Write and tell us the address of these schools and we will sort it out."
22 April 2003
Despite authoritarian rule, high levels of censorship of the local media and periodic barring of access to foreign-based political opposition websites, Central Asia's governments have so far only enacted limited censorship over access to religious websites based outside the region, a Forum 18 News Service investigation has found. Uzbekistan permanently bars access to the London-based website of Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir, though not to its Pakistan-related site. In several Uzbek Internet cafes, Forum 18 even came across the notice: "Viewing of religious and pornographic sites is forbidden". But with low Internet use in Central Asia and a population too poor to be able to afford access, Central Asia's governments – which to a greater or lesser extent try to control all religious activity - may believe they do not need to impose religious censorship on the Internet.
27 March 2003
A week-long investigation by Forum 18 News Service across the Fergana valley – the most devoutly Muslim region of Central Asia that straddles Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan – has revealed widespread popular hostility to the US war on Iraq, which one local called "a war of civilisations". Yet there was no evidence that this hostility to the war – which enjoys the tacit support of the Uzbek government – will lead to new instability in the Fergana valley. "While the situation will quickly become strained in the rest of the Muslim world, here everything will stay virtually unchanged," a local Muslim leader told Forum 18 in the Kyrgyz town of Osh. Even members of the banned Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir conceded that people are more concerned about surviving in the harsh economic climate than about their fellow-Muslims. "You must understand that our people are asleep," Uzbek Hizb ut-Tahrir members told Forum 18. "Even the co-operation between [Uzbek president]Islam Karimov and the US and the extermination of Iraqi Muslims have not awoken Uzbeks."