In a controversial move, Tajikistan’s government has enacted a law banning the hijab, further tightening its grip on religious practices. This latest law, one of 35 related to religion, is framed by the government as a measure to “protect national cultural values” and “prevent superstition and extremism.” Passed by the parliament’s upper house, Majlisi Milli, last Thursday, the law prohibits “foreign clothing,” including the hijab worn by Muslim women. Citizens are instead encouraged to wear traditional Tajik dress.

Heavy Fines for Violations

Violators of this new law face significant fines: 7,920 Tajikistani somoni (almost €700) for ordinary citizens, 54,000 somoni (€4,694) for government officials, and 57,600 somoni (about €5,000) for religious figures.

Impact on Religious Traditions

This legislation is part of a broader trend of religious regulation in Tajikistan, affecting various practices, including the traditional “iydgardak” during Eid holidays. Despite the country’s 96% Muslim population, these laws reflect President Emomali Rahmon’s long-standing focus on controlling religious expression, which dates back to the end of the civil war in 1997.

Historical Context of Religious Control

Rahmon, in power since 1994, initially coexisted with the opposition Tajikistan Islamic Resurrection Party (TIRP), which held 30% of government positions under a UN-brokered peace agreement. However, over time, Rahmon marginalized TIRP, eventually banning it as a terrorist organization in 2015 following a failed coup attempt.

Broader Measures Against “Extremism”

The hijab ban follows earlier measures such as the 2009 ban in public institutions and the 2011 Law on Parental Responsibility, which restricts religious education abroad and bans minors from worship places without permission. In 2017, the government closed nearly 2,000 mosques, converting many into non-religious facilities.

Recent Catalysts and International Responses

The recent hijab ban may have been spurred by the Crocus City Hall attack in Moscow, with attackers allegedly holding Tajik passports. President Rahmon emphasizes a secular, sovereign Tajikistan, urging citizens to “love God with (their) heart” and retain their cultural identity. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has designated Tajikistan a “country of special concern” in its 2023 report.

Global Context of Hijab Bans

Tajikistan’s hijab ban is part of a global debate. In Europe, countries like France and Austria have implemented similar bans in educational institutions. Other countries, including Germany and Belgium, have laws against face-covering garments. These laws often spark debates about women’s rights and religious freedom, with arguments on both sides about choice and identity.

Tajikistan President Emomali Rahman in 2023

Tajikistan President Emomali Rahman in 2023

Tajikistan’s ban on the hijab is a significant step in its broader strategy of regulating religious practices under the guise of national security and cultural preservation. While it reflects President Rahmon’s long-standing approach to governance, it also raises questions about religious freedom and state control in a predominantly Muslim nation. As the world watches, the impact on Tajik society and its Muslim community remains to be seen.

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