This year’s October demonstration against the ban on hijabs worn by girls in state schools was more violent than usual. With police forces involved, the whole event turned into – according to more Islamist-orientated media – a clash between religious citizens and the state. What about average citizens, not highly interested in politics? How does it reflect their lives?
Islamists are frequent demonstrators in front of the Ministry of Education. They gather near the state building, demanding lifting the ban on wearing hijabs at schools. They usually hold slogans “Allah Akbar” and “Freedom for hijab!”, and express their discontent, for in their opinion the ban keep their daughters out of school. According to Ministry of Education, the ban on hijabs came into force in the end of November of 2010.
Yet the manifestation held on 5 October 2012 was remarkable in several ways. More than 200 islamists gathered in front of the Ministry of Education demanding freedom for Hijabs. The participants managed to keep the intention to organize a protest in a secret. For first time both the police and media found out about the action right before the whole action.
The protesters arrived already armed in batons. Women wearing hijabs – frequent participants of such actions – were absent. The violence directed against the police forces as well as beaten officers were the center of stories on several Islamist websites.
All these facts show that the manifestation was planned in advance in order to provoke a clash with police and as a power demonstration. Why now? Why in the beginning of October when, as a rule, such protests, a sign of support for the requirement of girls attending schools wearing hijabs, used to be held before 15 September – the Day of Knowledge as well as the first day of a new school-year.
This year’s choice of the Teacher’s Day (5 October) was chosen in order to heat up the atmosphere, which political beneficent is neighbouring Iran. Information on arrests which have been followed by these protests is uncertain. Some sources say that only 65 islamists were arrested, other sources – more than 65, around 72 people.
From my own experience, I can tell about the situation I remember from my school. I was a 10th grader when, quite surprisingly, one girl from the 9th grade suddenly disappeared after the ban on hijabs. It was noticeable, for we had only one girl who was wearing a hijab at school. It was normal and fully accepted by professors and the admission office. She left right in the end of November 2010.
At first we did not know the reason of her leaving, then the information about ban on hijab suddenly emerged and was discussed by students at universities and schools. Of course, it became a problematic issue because from that very moment the girls who were wearing hijabs were not allowed to attend the classes – and exactly this point was mostly discussed. People generally disagreed with the ban. What about that girl from my school? She came back to school, but after a long break. Yes, she stopped wearing a hijab but still covered her hair with a small head scarf. Still, she lost that time in school.
Honestly, it would be great as well as kind if state officials changed their opinion. However, it is not so easy because in this case Islamists could become more powerful. Azerbaijan is a secular state and we have also other religions here, but in fact the majority of the Azerbaijan nation is Muslim.
I want to just add that there are a lot of secular states in the world but at the same time they allow girls to simply wear head scarves… Nevertheless the question about ban on hijabs in Azerbaijan still is remained open.