MORDOVIAN SCHOOL BAN ON HIJAB
By Stephen Wilson
Moscow, Russia -- A recent ban by a school in a Tatar village of Mordovia has provoked a heated discussion between the Minister of Education, Olga Vasilyeva, and the bellicosely ominous President of Chechnaya. The Mordavian
school , perhaps following the example of schools throughout France, decided to forbid the wearing of the Hijab in order to emphasize the secular nature of the Russian education system. The Minister of Education was perceived as lending moral support to the school's adopted dress code.
Vasilyeva claimed that : " We have a secular based education system . The Constitutional court made a decision that the Hijab , as an attribute of nationality, must have no place in our schools. Therefore I believe that this decision has already been made by a Constitutional court. " Vasilyeva further stated that :
"A truly religious people do not emphasize their faith with paraphernalia. "
Unfortunately, the Minister's intervention was misjudged by much of the Russian media which claimed she , herself , had banned the hijab in schools. However, this a far cry from what actually happened. The Minister of Education lacks
the legal power to impose such widespread ban of the Hijab throughout Russia.
The choice of dress code in schools , draconian or otherwise, is largely left to the local authorities in Russian districts and school headmasters are allowed some discretion as to what dress code students must observe.
But her statement provoked the wrath of the Chechen President who thundered back that : " The Hijab is not an attribute of nationality, but an important part of the dress of Muslims ,who are obliged to wear it by the Almighty Allah and
Prophet. Vasilyeva correctly states that this is 'her personal opinion ', but this remains her opinion , as it is not accepted by the full force of the law. My three daughters go to school wearing the hijab and get excellent marks. Does Olga Vasilyeva suggest they take off those headscarves ? Those girls will never do this !
Do I have to remove them from school to look for another school which allows children to be Muslims ? " Kadyrov also argued that : " I think that the issue of whether to wear headscarves is a deliberate way to distract the attention of
society from the real problems in school : drug addiction, drunken behaviour, crime and the systematic sexual abuse of school children by teachers."
The last point refers to recent reports made by the media concerning the alleged sexual abuse of school students in not only the elite school 57 in Moscow but other schools such as 'the League school.'. In recent days there have been
a wave of revelations from former students of how they were abused many years ago by teachers. A taboo appears to have been breached after a tensely traumatic silence.
The response of Putin's press secretary was : " We would not want to take sides in this dispute". In other words , they don't see any point in pouring oil over burning water.
What is permissible to wear at school often arouses angry emotions. Few people take this in their stride. It can also provoke bitter memories of school. Many years ago, a young Journalist called Yelena told me : " During the Soviet period a
school teacher scolded me in class for not wearing my red pioneer scarf. I was sent home and told not to come school without it. It was a petty rule. I never got a red school diploma because of my rebellious behaviour".
Second City teacher spoke to some students and teachers on what they thought about imposing a dress code. We obtained different responses. Some believe that the wearing of a school uniform helped maintain discipline , dampened
inequality and discouraged snobbery amongst students. However, other students regarded it as an additional expense parents could ill-afford and a threat to the personal freedom of students. When it came directly to the issue of the hijab , one teacher informed me she supported the ban as : " This dress is worn by many Islamic terrorists . It helps to promote it."
A young student of law, who I'll call Mikhail, stated : " I don't agree with schools in Europe and Russia forbidding the Hijab as it violates the individual expression of identity of school students. What surprises me is how several years ago the Court of European Human rights defended the right of institutions to forbid the wearing of the Hijab. I would have expected a better response from them ".
In deed, in France , many Russians are horrified to learn that children in schools have often been forbidden not only to wear the hijab but crosses. It is interesting to note that when Orthodox Christians learn that a ban on religious expression
of any kind would also hit them, their attitude to Muslims wearing of the Hijab softens. The begin to empathize with indignant Muslims.
Many people would agree with the sentiments expressed by Olga Vasilyeva that a truly religious people doesn't need to emphasize their faith with too much paraphernalia. For instance, the idea that a person is more 'Orthodox'
because he wears a kerchef , tall skirts and a cross overshadows the most important aspects of Christianity which are to love and aid others, and practice virtues while refraining from killing, stealing or bullying. The outer aspects of a religion can imperceptively cancel out the inner parts . A despiritualised formal religion based on appearance arises . So an Orthodox person believes he becomes closer to God because he grows a beard.
We can forget the essence of religion is to reunite humanity, with or without beards!