Friday, October 19

Hijab debate in Azerbaijan

I have been meaning to write on this matter. But I have been putting it off for various reasons. I wont get in too many why's but a piece I just saw on NY Times prompted me to write few things on this matter. 

Azerbaijan is a predominantly Muslim country. According to this article that was published by Washington Post:
In Baku, an ancient seaport in which Zoroastrian ruins coexist with brilliantly lighted glass skyscrapers, young couples hold hands or embrace on park benches along the broad, tree-lined promenade that hugs the Caspian shoreline — public displays of affection that are officially banned in Tehran. Women and girls in designer jeans hunt for bargains at Western clothing stores such as Bebe and Benetton. Head scarves are rare, but karaoke bars and nightclubs are plentiful along the downtown thoroughfares choked with traffic and new construction.
Not that I found Washing Post article in any way correct, in fact, many things in the article weren't quite right but thats a different story. So back to religion, Islam, and predominantly Shia state, where "head scarves are rare but karaoke bars and nightclubs are plentiful" things are not as "brilliant" and "embraced" as the article claims. Moreover, if you read the NYT article, you would see that things are far than being calm. These clashes between Muslim activists and the government are not happening for the first time. There were others too especially after a ban on head scarves at schools in 2009. 

About two weeks ago, I had a conversation on Twitter about this issue. More precisely a young man asked me whether I was for or against hijab at schools. My response was negative. A child, or young female student should not be forced to wear hijab because the religious community wants her to. If its her decision when she comes of age then she could wear whatever she wants. The man on Twitter quickly accused me of immorality claiming I approved explicit clothing especially on younger girls. 

This type of thinking- that one can dress only one way or live only specific way- is a growing trend at home. And I am not afraid to make generalizations in this case. Let young women decide themselves whether they want to wear hijab or not and not impose that on them at a younger age. And don't tell me that this is what all Muslim women of all ages should do. We live in a world and a time when women spend twice as much time as men on domestic work; work longer hours; many women around the world still do not meet international standard for duration of maternity leave; becoming heads of state is still elusive with only 14% of women in the world holding some government position; women face daily violence- sexual, psychological, economic, social- at home and outside; because of existing traditions and so- called customs, women have limited access to land and other types of property; women have fewer cash income. 

So please don't tell me that all we have left to deal and solve is whether young girls of school age should be wearing a hijab at school. And even if all of the problems are solved, as I said, let the women decide themselves whether they want to wear a hijab or any other religious dress at an age when they can actually make these decisions themselves.

As for the WP article, well, I guess the writers should talk more about religion in Azerbaijan and how much it impacts lives of women (and not just simplify it to karaoke bars, young couples holding hands, and girls wearing designer clothes) in this country. And as for the clashes, well, there is little that could be done here as long as women are treated as objects of pressure...

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