Monday, March 17, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Kadyrov’s Hijab Policy Backfiring in Chechnya

Paul Goble

Baku, March 18 – Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov’s requirement that all female students in higher educational institutions there wear hijabs of a particular color and at their own expense in order to be allowed to attend class is backfiring with some students dropping out and others increasingly radicalized as a result.
According to Grozny journalist Adam Dzhabrailov, Kadyrov’s order is angering even those women who were already wearing the hijab – some of them do not approve of his color scheme – as well as transforming university officials from educators into “jailors” (
Moreover, several of the colors the Chechen president chose – including scarlet – are at the very least offensive to Muslims, the students told Dzhabrailov, and the costs of the required hijabs are high – 240 to 270 rubles (10 to 12 U.S. dollars) -- especially for the many students who have no other income than their stipends.
(Students at the elite oil industry institute do not have to pay, Dzhabrailov notes, because that school has sufficient resources to buy hijabs for its students. But none of the other schools does, and that creates yet another source of tension among the students in the Chechen capital.)
The most serious problem Kadyrov’s order has caused, however, is that any student who does not wear a hijab is prevented from attending class. This requirement is enforced by armed guards at the entrances, in the libraries, in the lunchrooms and the hallways of university buildings.
Many who are denied entrance because they are not wearing any hijab or they have one on that does not conform to Kadyrov’s requirements ultimately decide to drop out of school, thus limiting the contribution they might have otherwise made and making it much more likely that they will turn to radicals opposed to Kadyrov.
Not surprisingly, many of the students are furious. One nineteen-year-old told Dzhabrailov that “every person has a right to an education. But here what do we see? … One time I was not allowed to attend class because I did not have a hijab, another time, because I wore it incorrectly and a third time because it was the wrong color.”
Kadyrov’s clumsiness and use of his often unrestrained security agencies to enforce his hijab requirement is thus alienating precisely the category of people on whom he and Moscow have been hoping to rely to overcome the violence in that north Caucasus republic and integrate its people into the Russian Federation.

UPDATE on March 22: In the past, Chechen women wore a variety of headgear, including shawls, but not the hijab as such. For a discussion, see the comments of Birlant Abdulbakhabova, a scholar at Chechen State University, in the journal Muslima at She describes her research into the history of this question but notes that traditional requirements that Chechen women dress modestly and cover their hair have broken down in many places in the course of the fighting in their land over the last 15 years.

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