On the growing debate around the issue of Islamic national dress

Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon has signed 35 laws that include a ban on wearing clothing alien to the national culture. In particular, the laws ban the import, sale and wearing of the hijab. According to the presidential press service, these actions are aimed at protecting the true values of the national culture of Tajikistan

“Imitation of alien culture in clothing, i.e. wearing alien clothes called “satr” and “hijab”, is another urgent problem for our society. Alienation of etiquette and dress rituals is cultural alienation, which undermines the independence of thought, national and cultural identity of the nation,” the head of state said. He also stressed that Tajik national dress has gained international recognition, including by UNESCO.

Emomali Rakhmon urged to avoid “the penetration of so-called religious clothing that does not meet our religious needs, alien to our customs and culture” in order to protect national values. He also instructed the republic’s Committee on Women and Family Affairs to develop, together with Tajik designers, and present designs for national clothing in accordance with the religious and ethical needs of Tajik women.

Public updating of the issue

The issue of banning the hijab and niqab is increasingly being discussed outside of Tajikistan, in Europe and Asia. Critics argue that these elements of dress belong primarily to Arab Muslim culture, and attributing them to Asian cultural society contributes to the blurring of cultural concepts, as the President of Tajikistan has also said. However, in most countries discussing the issue, it was primarily a matter of being able to identify oneself.

The issue of public discussion of the wearing of the niqab and hijab has not escaped Russia, which has a huge Muslim population. The discussion has reached the highest echelons of power, where they are divided, as some consider the issue of banning the wearing of clothes hiding the face a necessary measure to ensure security, while others argue that it can be perceived as an infringement of the feelings of believing Muslims.

On 28 May, amendments to the draft laws were submitted to the State Duma: banning the wearing of religious clothing, clothing with religious attributes and (or) religious symbols in educational organisations, unless otherwise stipulated by an article of the law. It also included a ban on wearing religious and other clothing that fully or partially conceals the face in state organisations and in public places in the Russian Federation. The amendments to the bill were authored by the Deputy Speaker of the State Duma, Vladislav Davankov (New People).

The explanatory note points to the “high level of terrorist threats” in a number of constituent entities of the Russian Federation as the reason for the need to restrict the wearing of clothing concealing the face in public places. According to the note, a person with a covered or partially covered face cannot be identified by CCTV cameras, making it difficult to identify and trace him or her in the event of an offence.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Spiritual Administration of Muslims said it would support a proposal by HRC head Valery Fadeyev to ban the niqab if official bodies found a link between wearing the niqab, which covers the entire face except the eyes, and an increase in the risk of extremism.

Among the opponents of the ban is Ildar Gilmutdinov, deputy chairman of the State Duma Committee on Nationalities. He believes that such a radical decision would exacerbate the situation and could “spoil relations with the Islamic world”. He was also supported by Chechen political figure Adam Delimkhanov.

“Undoubtedly, we will not support this bill. I would like to explain to Davankov the difference between the niqab and the hijab. The niqab is a female garment that covers the face, while the hijab does not cover the face. The niqab – we ourselves do not approve of it, and as for the hijab – it is a religious obligation of a Muslim woman. If Davankov wants to forbid anyone to fulfil their religious prescriptions, he directly contradicts the Russian Constitution,” Delimkhanov said.

The report by the Russian Cabinet of Ministers claims that the introduction of restrictions on religious clothing into Russian law could violate the human rights to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. At the same time, State Duma deputy Biysultan Khamzaev said that the niqab has nothing directly to do with Islam.

“The niqab is certainly an Arab garment, yes, but an Arab garment from the pre-Islamic period, that is, it appeared among Arabs before they embraced Islam,” he said on the Duma TV podcast.

Discussion in Europe

The issue of banning religious dress has come up for discussion amid fears of a growing terrorist threat in Europe. In Europe, for example, some right-wing critics have linked it to uncontrolled migration and a lack of security.

In 2021, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled: employers have the right to prohibit the wearing of items of clothing or signs related to religion or politics in the workplace, including the hijab.

Muslim women living in Europe are in favour of being allowed to wear traditional dress in all places. For example, in some countries, schoolgirls are banned from going to classes wearing the hijab and visiting a swimming pool in a Muslim covered swimming costume. This is to ensure a level playing field, but the ban often results in Muslim parents withdrawing their daughter from school, depriving her of an education.

In 2004, France passed a law banning the public display of religious symbols or dress. The regulation banned the burqa, also prosecuted those who forced women to hide their faces: such people face a hefty fine and one year in prison. In 2014, opponents of the law unsuccessfully tried to challenge it at the European Court of Human Rights.

In Belgium, Austria and Denmark, the niqab is banned. But Muslim women are in favour of being allowed to wear the traditional garment in all places.

The growing level of discussion suggests that the hijab and niqab will continue to be discussed, including at the level of national governments.

Dmitry Berezhnoi, specially for News Front