Scarf or hijab’ debate stirs Uzbekistan
TASHKENT — Was it a “traditional white scarf” or a hijab? That is what rights groups in Uzbekistan would like to know from the state after the secular Muslim republic issued its first reported dress code fine since implementing a tough new law three years ago banning religious attire.
The female subject of the $345 fine was convicted by a court in the central Syrdaria province in the former Soviet republic of wearing the hijab in public.
The Ezgulik (Kindness) rights group contends that the woman was wrapped in a simple scarf worn by many in the Central Asian republic since its officially atheist Soviet era.
“There are quite a number of disputes about the difference between a traditional Uzbek scarf and a Muslim hijab,” Ezgulik head Vasila Inoyatova told AFP.
“So we are asking for a clear official and expert definition of ‘worship clothing’, on which we assume Syrdaria province court based its verdict, to be made publicly available,” Inoyatova said.
Many older Uzbek women in this nation of 28 million wear one short scarf tied on the back of their heads and a longer loose white scarf over it.
A scarf wound tightly under the neck that leaves an oval opening for the face is a hijab — a Muslim dress religious clerics who follow state rules have repeatedly urged the public to refrain from wearing.
Uzbekistan has tightly restricted religious expression as part of its official campaign to thwart the dangers coming from Islamist militants and other radical groups based in neighbouring Afghanistan and the Middle East.
But this crackdown and other reported rights violations have made Uzbekistan into the focus of strong criticism from global watchdogs and governments.
The US State Department in its annual rights report last month said the Uzbek “government continued to commit serious abuses of religious freedom in its campaign against extremists or those participating in underground Islamic activity.”
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