Ban on headscarves in schools upsets devout Muslims in Kosovo

June 24, 2010

kosovo scarfThe leader of a protest against Kosovo’s ban on headscarves in public schools says devout Muslims could resort to violence to get their way, though Islam is not central to the lives of most Kosovo Albanians.

The June 18 rally in the capital Pristina by 5,000 women in headscarves, supported by some bearded men, was held after a few headscarf-clad girls were prevented from entering their schools.  It was an extraordinary sight in Kosovo, whose 2 million population is 90 percent Muslim but mostly secular in lifestyle.

(Photo: Kosovo Muslim women protest in Pristina against a headscarf ban in public schools, June 18, 2010/Hazir Reka)

The Kosovo education ministry banned religious garb in primary and high schools late last year, prompting heated debate about religious liberties in the country, a former province of Serbia that declared independence two years ago.

“This decision is in line with the country’s constitution,” said Education Minister Enver Hoxhaj, referring to a clause stipulating that Kosovo “is a secular state and is neutral in matters of religious beliefs”.

While few countries ban headscarves in schools, analysts say Kosovo did so to ensure respect for the secular constitution in a small, fragile young country and underline that it belongs to the West and aspires to join the EU and NATO eventually.

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