A 14-year-old Muslim girl from eastern Georgia’s Kakheti region has been told she must take off her hijab while at school. While the headteacher of the school in the village of Karajala insists the covering is prohibited under school rules, the teenager’s family says she is being deprived of the right to religious freedom.
The girl’s uncle Islam Islamov told OC Media that his niece was sent home by the headteacher on her first day in the seventh year, because of the covering she was wearing.
‘My niece covered her head as she comes from a religious family. She was sent home several times. The headteacher won’t allow her in, saying it is against the school’s rules. She embarrasses the child’, says Islamov.
He says the school’s rules violate the right to free expression and religious freedom.
Headteacher Elza Ashirova insists the teenager is being forced by her parents to obey religious rules that prevent her from receiving a quality education. She says she has not prevented the student from attending classes.
‘Our school’s internal rules say that students cannot show up at school with any kind of head covering, whether a cap or a scarf. They don’t say anything about the hijab. We have explained this to the student and her parents. This has nothing to do with religion or discrimination’, Ashirova told OC Media.
Ashirova who is a Muslim, claims that local customs have never required women to wear the hijab, but that the trend has been growing over the past decade. She says it has nothing to do with local traditions, and that there would be no such rule if the hijab were common in the local community.
‘Women do not wear hijab in our village. I think it’s her parents who are violating her rights. I understand that they are allowed to raise her religiously, but in this particular case she is being forced to wear the hijab. She refuses to touch a ball in her sports classes, saying it’s a sin. She says it’s a sin to listen to Georgian songs, that it’s a sin to learn the Georgian alphabet. This is how they raise her. I want her to enjoy her childhood, it hurts my heart to see her like this. I want her to be involved in classes’, Ashirova says.
While the teenager’s family awaits a reaction from the Ministry of Education, this is not the first case when hijab at school becomes a matter of debate. In December 2016 18-year-old Teona Beridze from the village of Mokhe, in southwest Georgia’s Adigeni Municipality, was asked by her school’s headteacher to remove her hijab at school. The ministry found that the headteacher’s actions did not violate any rules.
[Read about Mokhe on OC Media: Georgia’s Mokhe Muslims ‘threatened by Christian leader’]
Georgia’s Public Defender has said they consider ‘such a request does not stem from the legislation of Georgia and unjustly restricts the student’s freedom to express her religious identity’.
On 18 September the Public Defender addressed the Ministry of Education with a general proposal, and called on them to take effective measures in to ensure religious neutrality in public schools, protect schoolchildren’s right to express their religious identity, and prevent religious discrimination.
‘In the general proposal, the Public Defender also called on the ministry to study the issue of freedom of expression of religious identity at public schools more deeply (including the wearing of the traditional Muslim headscarf) and to establish a common uniform approach for all public schools, taking into consideration the content of the general proposal’, their statement read.