The extension of a ban on the wearing of hijab to universities is inviting the ire of Muslims in Azerbaijan.
“How can the officials justify the new ban that is extended to the university students, teachers, etc.?” religious expert Haj Zolfaqar Mikaeilzadeh told on March 9.
He lamented that the ban on the Muslim headscarf at high schools is now being extended to universities. Students at the Azerbaijan State Oil Academy (ASOA) have been banned from entering the campus for wearing hijab. Mais Gul Aliev, leader of Azerbaijan Green Party, described the hijab ban at universities as “illegal”. He called for an end to what he called unconstitutional measures.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations. Muslims, mostly Shiite, make up more than 93 percent of the former Soviet republic’s population of 8.3 million people. The rest of the population adheres to other faiths or are non-religious.
Like much of the ex-Soviet Union, Azerbaijan has witnessed a limited religious revival since independence in 1991. The government of President Ilham Aliyev has been facing accusations of tightening controls on the Muslim religion in the country. In mid-February 2010, the government ordered all state employees to remove Islam-related symbols -– like Qur’anic verses — from their offices.
In December 2010, the secular government introduced a standard school uniform which precludes the wearing of hijab, an obligatory Muslim code of dress. The move has triggered uproar in the country, with many Muslims taking to the streets to protest against the restriction.
In January 2011, Baku attempted to undermine the pro-Hijab movement in the country by rounding up Muslim activists and pressing unsubstantiated charges against them.