You’ve Got Veil: Secular Tajikistan Gov’t sends Millions of Texts imposing Hijab Ban

RFE/RL’s Tajik Service | – –

DUSHANBE — Private mobile-phone companies in Tajikistan have begun sending out text messages to millions of citizens, reminding them to obey a new law that makes Tajik national clothing obligatory at “traditional” gatherings such as weddings and commemorative ceremonies for the dead.

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The legislation is widely seen as an attempt to prevent Tajik women from wearing the Islamic hijab and to discourage men from wearing Islamic clothing — part of an ongoing government campaign to combat radicalism.

The text messages were being sent to some 6 million mobile-phone users on September 6, a day after the state Women’s and Family Affairs Committee sent a letter instructing a half dozen private mobile operators in Tajikistan to do so.

One of the messages written by the state committee instructs Tajiks to “observe Tajik traditional clothes,” while another tells citizens to “respect traditional clothes.”

A third message from the state committee that was being transmitted on September 6 said: “Let’s make it a tradition to wear traditional clothes.”

RFE/RL Video:

Tajik President Emomoli Rahmon on August 28 signed the law, which obliges individuals and organizations “to stick to traditional and national clothes and culture” at so-called “traditional” gatherings.

The legislation amended a 10-year-old law that governs the practice of traditions, rites, and celebrations in Tajikistan.

It says citizens of Tajikistan have an obligation to observe and respect the state language and “the style of wearing national traditional clothes.”

Human rights activists say Tajikistan’s government uses the term “nontraditional dress” and “alien garments” as euphemisms for the Islamic hijab.

Although the new law does not specifically mention the hijab, authorities in the past have said that head scarves that cover the front of a woman’s neck are a form of “alien culture and traditions.”

Hilolbi Qurbonzoda, chief of the lower chamber of parliament’s Committee on Social Affairs, has said that separate legislation on possible punishment for those who wear “alien Islamic garments” rather than “traditional” Tajik clothing would be outlined by parliament soon.

Since May 2016, authorities in the predominantly Muslim Central Asian country of around 8 million have closed down scores of shops for selling women’s religious clothing that does not conform with what the government calls “national traditions.”

In early August, more than 8,000 hijab-wearing women were stopped in public places across Dushanbe by teams of state officials who instructed them about how to wear head scarves in the style of “traditional national clothing” — that is, by tying the scarf with a knot behind the head in a way that leaves the front of the neck exposed.

Tajik police have asserted that some women and girls associated with alleged terrorist organizations can be identified because they follow “alien culture and traditions.”

The U.S. State Department has raised concerns with Dushanbe about what it says are the Tajik government’s attempts to control all aspects of religious life in the country.

That includes government control over the approval and registration of religions, the construction of places of worship, the distribution of religious literature, and religious education for children.

Tajikistan’s laws on religion also restrict the locations of Islamic prayer and prohibit children under the age of 18 from taking part in public religious activities.

Private religious ceremonies, including funerals and weddings, also are increasingly regulated by state officials.

Tajikistan’s government argues that its strict controls on religion are necessary to prevent the growth of what it calls Islamic “extremist” organizations and terrorist groups.

RFE/RL’s Tajik Service

Copyright (c) 2017. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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8 Responses

  1. This is a good idea to prevent the Muslims from getting influenced by the Wahhabis, and starting to wear the black abayas, which is not the national attire of the people of Tajikistan. Saudi Arabia has tried to influence too many Muslim nations, and spread their brand of the religion. Muslim nations, and Muslims living in other nations, must try to resist this influence, and stick to their own cultures and national clothing. Many ignorant Muslims seem to believe that Saudi Arabia represents the true form of the religion, and readily accepts it’s rules and regulations, including unsuitable attire.

  2. Fundamentalist religion tends to be as invasive as a bacterial infection. Education and assorted disincentives may be needed to inhibit spread. You can take the analogy wherever it leads, but the ultimate goal is elimination, with the resultant benefit of intellectual clarity and personal freedom to evolve without alien constraints.

    • But in this case, we are seeing radical state secularism, which is not government neutrality, but is in fact a “religion” that at its ultimate end represses all other religious expressions in public or by groups in public or in private.

      In the sociology of religion, we often compare religions on the basis of each one’s answers to seven existential questions (theology, cosmology, eschatology, soteriology, ecclesiology, epistemology, anthropology). Secularists have their own set of answers to those questions. State imposed religion called “secularism” is just as much a religion as is the religion imposed in a theocracy.

      In the modern world, an ideal government is NEUTRAL in matters of religion. It does not attempt to have any imposed answer to the existential questions or at least not to impose its answers on any of its citizens.

  3. Tajikistan calls itself a “presidential republic”; its population is 98% Muslim (at least in name). And yet, the government, which calls itself “secular” is hardly neutral. According to Wikipedia:

    “By law, religious communities must register with the State Committee on Religious Affairs (SCRA) and with local authorities. Registration with the SCRA requires a charter, a list of 10 or more members, and evidence of local government approval prayer site location. Religious groups who do not have a physical structure are not allowed to gather publicly for prayer. Failure to register can result in large fines and closure of place of worship. There are reports that registration on the local level is sometimes difficult to obtain. People under the age of 18 are also barred from public religious practice.

    “As of January, 2016, as part of an “anti-radicalisation campaign”, police in the Khatlon region reportedly shaved the beards of 13,000 men and shut down 160 shops selling the hijab. Shaving beards and discouraging women from wearing hijab is part of a government campaign targeting trends that are deemed “alien and inconsistent with Tajik culture”, and “to preserve secular traditions”.”
    link to en.wikipedia.org

    Strange! The government is more radical than its people. How can one reasonably understand a so-called “presidential republic” that represses the traditions and dress of it’s 98% Muslim population and that not only requires a license to operate a mosque but forbids minor children from praying in a mosque alone or with their parents?

    A niqab that covers the face or an Iranian burkha or a Saudi abaya are seldom seen. Some women wear the hijab (a scarf that covers the hair and usually the neck and shoulders) and modest (i.e. loose) clothing. Some men wear a beard and may wear a traditional, brimless Muslim hat.

    We see the same sorts of garments in moderate Muslim countries like Indonesia, Morocco, Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia, etc.

    The Tajikistan constitution guarantees freedom of religion! If you can get a permit and dress in government approved clothing for public ceremonies–including the religious ceremonies for your own marriage and funeral rites.

    Takjikistan has a long way to go to be in compliance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations, in 1948:

    “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
    link to un.org

    Muhammad the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said, “O people, beware of extremism in religion; for those who came before you were destroyed only because of extremism in religion.”

    That is a tradition considered authentic and found in the collection Sunan ibn Majah 3029.

    Even Allah himself commands freedom of conscience in religion in the Qur’an:

    “لاَ إِكْرَاهَ فِى الدِّينِ.” (Let there be no compulsion in religion.)

  4. I always felt uncomfortable in the presence of the abaya (kara çarşaf in Turkey – look it up!) because it represents not so much anything Islamic as a pre-Muslim barbarism disguising itself as instructions from the Prophet.

    The hicab is much less a rejection of the world we actually live in, but I was a bit worried last summer in İstanbul by a greatly increased incidence of the hicab especially among young women compared to 10 years ago.

    I hate to think that it might be the camel’s nose under the tent of a general retreat into religiosity., but I fear that it is. Weak economy and poor governance can do that to a country.

    Providing a setting in which the outward trappings of religion are less necessary beats an outright ban every time.

  5. as the government attempts to control how women dress, extremists will use this as a way to rally people. ‘they will appeal first in a more moderate way, and then if they make head way, will start the radicalization.

    Its never a good thing to tell people what to wear, especially teen agers. I’d suggest this has serious impact on women. who are these guys, trying to tell a female how to dress. fashion police in any country are not a good thing.

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

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