Azerbaijan’s government has refused to lift a ban on Islamic veil or Hijab despite angry public protests against the controversial decision.
Azerbaijani officials have been preventing Muslim schoolgirls wearing headscarves from attending schools for a month since the ban was implemented.
Schools are due to open on Thursday after New Year holidays. Islamic groups and rights activists expected the government to end the ban in the new year.
Hundreds of people staged a demonstration in Azerbaijan’s second largest city of Ganja on December 24 after the Friday prayers and called on the government to overturn the decree. They also chanted slogans against the anti-Islamic law.
The peaceful demonstration was stopped by police and security forces who resorted to force and detained more than 50 people.
Despite tight security measures, enraged Muslims held rallies in other cities across the former Soviet republic, including Jalilabad, Lankaran and Masally.
On December 10, a similar protest was held in front of the Education Ministry building in Baku in reaction to comments by Azerbaijan’s Education Minister Misir Mardanov, who said that girls should comply with official rules on school uniforms, which forbid the wearing of headscarves.
The government plans to reintroduce Soviet-era uniforms to secondary school students in 2011.
Azerbaijan’s constitution has entitled Muslim students to wear headscarves. Muslims constitute almost 98 percent of the population of Azerbaijan.
Muslim communities in Azerbaijan blame the growing secularism in the country on Tel Aviv and accuse Israel of being behind anti-Islamic programs during the Shia mourning month of Muharram and the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.