KIRGHIZSTAN Islamic veil and fundamentalism are back in Bishkek

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In an 80% Muslim country, strict adherence to Islamic rules is back, with women being forced to wear the hijab. However, in the workplace, many employers have banned the veil and this has created controversy. Experts wonder how this will affect Kyrgyz society.

Bishkek (AsiaNews / Agencies) – Islamic fundamentalism, already strong in southern Kyrgyzstan, could be reinforced by the country’s current political uncertainties, following the ouster of President Kurmanbak Bakiyev who has been replaced by an interim government.

The rising tide of fundamentalism is at the root of a number of social problems. An example illustrates the situation. In March, Mars Dooronova, a well-known television presenter and producer of the popular ELTR station in Osh, resigned because her supervisor, the station’s former deputy manager, Mametibraim Janybekov, forbade her to wear a hijab at the office and on the air.

“I got married [recently] and now that I am a married woman I started to wear a hijab, but Mametibraim Janybekov said that I cannot wear a hijab in the air, and even in the building [of the TV Company]”said Dooronova, 31. EurasiaNet.

Janybekov offered Dooronova a compromise, saying that she could come to work in a hijab and change in the office while she was at work. She dismissed the case.

“I can’t be double-sided. I can deceive people, but I cannot deceive Allah. If I couldn’t be on air with my hijab on and even in the office, how could I work there? That’s why I had to quit, ”said the presenter, who had worked at the station for 11 years.

Kyrgyzstan is a Muslim nation, but like other former Soviet republics, religious practice tends to be moderate. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Islam flourished throughout Central Asia, but particularly in Kyrgyzstan’s Fergana Valley, where Osh is located.

Here, Muslim religious leaders have tended to promote strict adherence to Islamic law.

Makhmud Aripov, the imam of the Nabijon Haji mosque in Osh, said EurasiaNet, “Wearing the hijab guarantees a woman’s chastity, and a lack of a hijab leads to divorce. A mother wearing a hijab serves as an example for her daughter, which will help ensure her honor.

All of this has led to an increasing number of conflicts related to the hijab. These days, such incidents are more common in high schools, involving final year students wearing the hijab.

Despite the country having 80 percent, local Muslims were not very observant and tolerated the way others chose to interpret religious rules.

Now the debate revolves around a number of questions including how compulsory the hijab is, especially in the south. Either way, women are the first to pay for the situation. In many offices and schools, the wearing of the veil has been banned.

Experts wonder what lies behind the revival of strict adherence to Islamic rules. They note that Muslim religious leaders justify the application of rules on a vague reference to divine precepts, but reject any social change that may have occurred in recent centuries.

The problem is when strict adherence to a rule becomes intolerant extremism.

This danger should not be underestimated, especially in light of the north-south divide in Kyrgyzstan, which emerged during the protest movement that led to the downfall of President Bakiev.


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