FaithWorld

Muslims in Azerbaijan protest for right to wear headscarves

azerbaijan (Photo: Pro-headscarf protest at the education ministry in Baku, December 10, 2010/Turkhan Karimov)

Hundreds of people protested in Azerbaijan on Friday for the right to wear Islamic headscarves in schools, challenging the strictly secular regime. Around 800-1,000 people took part in the demonstration outside the Ministry of Education, far more than Azerbaijan’s opposition has mustered in recent years to demand reform in the tightly-controlled former Soviet republic.

Some Islamic communities in mainly Shi’ite Azerbaijan complain of discrimination by a regime analysts say is anxious to stem any challenge from politicised Islam or radicalism as a potential threat to stability in the oil and gas exporter.

There is no explicit ban on the wearing of headscarves in schools, but the government this year introduced a standard school uniform which precludes traditional Islamic dress.

The country of 9 million people is bordered to the West by Turkey, where a secular state must accommodate growing conservative religious influences, to the south by the Islamic Republic of Iran and to the north by Russia’s North Caucasus, gripped by an Islamist insurgency against Moscow.

Read the full story by Lada Yevgrashina here.

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Azerbaijan wrestles with Islam in rough region

baku (Photo: Building boom in Azerbaijan capital Baku, 3 Nov 2010/Osman Karimov)

The view from Nardaran’s vast sandstone mosque sweeps down through roses to the Absheron peninsula and the Caspian sea from which Azerbaijan derives its wealth. Devotion to Islam defines life in this dusty coastal village, where walls carry Koranic verses and social grievances against this strictly controlled former Soviet republic find voice in religion.

But it’s a way of life that sits uneasily with the secular regime of President Ilham Aliyev, an authoritarian who draws his power from rich reserves of oil and gas in the Caspian. “They are wealthy, but they are afraid,” Haji Aga Nuriyev, Naradaran elder and former head of the banned Islamic Party of Azerbaijan, said of the political elite around Aliyev.

Like much of the former Soviet Union — Christian and Muslim — this country of 9 million mainly Shi’ite Muslims has witnessed a limited religious revival since the collapse of Communism two decades ago.