Kosovo: Headscarves banned in public schools

Kosovo: Headscarves banned in public schools

The young Kosovo Republic, with an overwhelming Muslim majority but a tradition of moderate Islam and a secular constitution, has joined Tunisia and France in prohibiting girls attending public schools from wearing the headscarf (hijab). As in Turkey, where the ban on headscarves, instituted in the 1920s, has become a matter for judicial controversy, decisions against the headscarf by local and school authorities have produced a legal case and complaints of discrimination.

For now, headscarves cannot be worn on school property in most of Kosovo. A 16-year-old girl, Arjeta Halimi, from the small town of Viti, which includes Albanian Catholics and Christian Orthodox Serbs, was barred from school in January 2009.  She was not been allowed to return, although school authorities will permit her to take her final examinations while in hijab. In the meantime, she is studying at home. She also takes three hours of Islamic religious classes each day.

According to local media, the teenager was ordered by the principal and a security guard at her school to remove the scarf or leave the institution's  grounds. She opted for the scarf over the schoolhouse, declaring that she had made the decision to cover her hair after five years of religious instruction. Halimi also said her mother wore a headscarf but that her sisters did not. "They are different," she said.  She further asserted that other students were allowed to wear Christian crosses, and that she should therefore be permitted to remain in hijab while at classes.

Her case produced a complaint by a local, non-Islamist NGO, the Center for Legal Aid and Regional Development, which claims she is a victim of religious discrimination.  A district court found in her favor, but school and municipal authorities in Viti rejected their opinion, and insisted that obtrusive religious symbols could not be worn in public schools.

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), through a small English-language tabloid published in the republic's capital, Prishtina Insight, said that ten such cases have previously been observed in Kosovo. Three girls were excluded from public schools in the district of Skenderaj, which has been plagued by Islamist ructions, and one from a facility in the capital.  But according to Prishtina Insight, the headscarf is allowed in some schools near Viti.


Source: Weekly Standard (English)

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