Tajik Islamic party criticizes ban on wearing Islamic head scarves in schools

Tajikistan's Islamic party on Monday criticized a new ban on wearing Islamic head scarves in secular schools in this ex-Soviet republic as an "inadmissible" violation of civil rights. The Islamic Renaissance Party, or IRP, said in a statement that the ban, announced on Oct. 19, was "against the interests of the majority of Tajiks" and contradicted the constitution and international laws. It added that the ban "could provoke a negative public reaction."

In announcing the ban, Education Minister Abdudjabor Rakhmonov said that wearing the hijab, or head scarf traditionally worn by Muslim women, and other religious symbols was "unacceptable" in secular schools and in violation of the constitution and education laws. Rakhmonov also expressed concern that pupils spent too much time in mosques at the expense of their education. Tajikistan is constitutionally a secular country, but more than 90 percent of its population are Muslims. It neighbors Afghanistan and has been troubled by religious extremism.

The IRP emerged just before the 1991 Soviet collapse and won official recognition in a five-year civil war, that ended in 1997 with a U.N.-brokered power sharing agreement.

However, the party's influence has eroded in recent years, as President Emomali Rakhmonov, who during the civil war fought the Islamic opposition with Moscow's backing, has consolidated his grip on power by sidelining or jailing a number of potential challengers to himself, including several senior IRP officials.

The IRP is the only official Islamic party in the former Soviet Central Asia, reports the AP. I.L.