Kazakhstan Announces Ban On Hijabs In Schools

The recent decision by the Kazakh government to ban the wearing of hijab headscarves in educational institutions has ignited a fervent and complex debate within the country. This move has not only raised issues surrounding religious freedom but also sparked protests, with some young girls even choosing to drop out of school in response.

The official statement from the Kazakh government, issued on October 16, makes it explicit that the ban applies to both students and teachers within educational settings. The reasoning behind this prohibition is underscored by the government’s commitment to maintaining a secular state. According to the statement, school uniforms must not include hijabs, as they are considered to symbolize religious beliefs. In the pursuit of upholding the principles of secularism and ensuring equality among all religions before the law, the government has chosen to take this stance, emphasizing the importance of not showing favoritism towards any specific religious group.

Kazakhstan boasts a diverse religious landscape, with nearly 70% of the population adhering to Islam. Unsurprisingly, the ban has elicited mixed reactions. Proponents argue that Kazakhstan’s identity as a secular nation necessitates a neutral stance, refraining from favoring any single religion. In their view, this ban is in line with the country’s commitment to secularism.

On the other side of the debate, opponents of the ban argue that it infringes on the fundamental principles of freedom of conscience. They contend that individuals should have the liberty to express their religious beliefs, even in educational settings, and view the ban as a restriction on this freedom. Some have taken extreme measures to protest against the ban, including young girls dropping out of school in response to the hijab prohibition.

The impact of this ban is not limited to the academic realm; it has also spilled over into society. Kazakh Education Minister Gani Beisembayev revealed that in the Atyrau region alone, around 150 girls have withdrawn from schools since the ban’s implementation in September. Moreover, in the Turkestan region, reports emerged of two individuals assaulting a local school director who had refused to allow girls wearing hijabs to attend classes.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev weighed in on the matter at a national teachers’ congress held in the capital, Astana. He emphasized that educational institutions should primarily serve as places for acquiring knowledge, while religious beliefs remain a private matter. President Tokayev also reaffirmed that freedom of religion is legally protected in Kazakhstan, and he asserted the importance of children growing up to develop their own worldview and make independent choices about their beliefs.

It’s worth noting that while the President has suggested that children should have the freedom to decide their religious beliefs, the ban on hijab wearing applies to all educational institutions in Kazakhstan without exception, underscoring the government’s commitment to its secular identity. The debate surrounding this ban continues, underscoring the complex intersection of religious freedom, secularism, and individual rights in Kazakhstan.