Tajik legislators have introduced a bill requiring women to “stick to traditional national clothes and culture,” and the move has sparked controversy with some who argue that it is primarily directed against Islamic clothing.
The legislation is an amendment to an existing law on “streamlining of traditions, celebrations and ceremonies” in the country and, while it does not specifically ban the hijab, Tajik authorities often openly speak about the dangers of wearing Islamic clothing.
Tajikistan’s Minister of Culture, Shamsiddin Orumbekzoda, told Radio Free Europe (RFE) that Muslim dress was “really dangerous” because people looked at women wearing it “with concern,” fearing that “they could be hiding something under their hijab.”
Although 98 percent of Tajikistan’s population is Muslim, the country considers itself a secular state, with a constitution providing for freedom of religion.
Women in the central Asian country either leave their head uncovered or tie a scarf behind their heads, rather than under the chin like the hijab. The hijab and other variations of Islamic veils for women have been previously described by Tajik authorities as an “alien culture.”
“Wearing the hijab and blindly copying a culture that is foreign to us is not a sign of having high moral and ethical standards for women,” Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon was quoted, cited by Al Jazeera.
Existing laws already prohibit women wearing hijabs from entering government offices in the nation. In August, police approached around 8,000 women wearing hijabs in the capital city of Dushanbe, demanding that they wrap their scarves in accordance with traditional Tajik dress code. Many people were appalled by the incident, claiming that they felt that their personal liberties were being infringedupon.
“I have to decide for myself what to wear. No one has the right to tell me ‘you have to wear this,'” human rights activist Oinikhol Bobonazarova told RFE.
Though the new legislation has not decreed any penalty or punishment for breaking the rule, some have claimed that authorities could introduce fines at a later date, especially for repeat offenses.