Headscarf debate highlights Russian Muslims' grievances
By Thomas Grove
MOSCOW (Reuters) - A ban on girls wearing the Islamic headscarf to a school in southern Russia has angered Muslims and forced President Vladimir Putin, who has robustly defended the Orthodox Church, to affirm that Russia is a secular state.
Muslims in the town of Kara Tyube in the Stavropol region say the ban on the hijab at School No. 12 forces their children to choose between their religion and a state education.
"The principal phoned me personally and told me to come and take my children home because from now on they will not be allowed to attend lessons in Islamic dress," said Ravil Kaibaliyev, whose daughter Marian was barred from her middle school because of the white headscarf she wore every day.
"To force her (to remove her headscarf) would violate her integrity. She would be torn in a conflict between her soul and the others around her, and I think that is wrong," said Kaibaliyev, wearing a long beard and white prayer cap.
The school's principal, Marina Savchenko, said she had received threats over her decision, but did not regret it.
"Here everything should be very simple: it is an institution, so it's a secular dress code, business-dress style. That's all. End of discussion," she said outside the school.
It is Marian Kaibaliyev's misfortune to live in an area of Russia not recognized as Muslim enough to justify special recognition for Islamic practices.
In Tatarstan, female students freely wear headscarves to school. In Muslim Chechnya, which borders Stavropol and was the site of two separatist wars, a headscarf that covers a student's hair is part of an accepted dress code. Continued...