Normally, when a Muslim cleric speaks to women about their clothes, it’s about wearing more of them. But one imam in Uzbekistan has addressed his countrywomen, telling them not to cover up.
Anvar Qori Tursunov, the head of Tashkent’s Central Mosque, has urged women not to adopt the hejab because it signals foreign influence. “Foreign clothes will bring foreign ideology, which is dangerous for Uzbekistan,” said Tursunov on Uzbek TV.
Uzbekistan has been a predominately Muslim nation for centuries, and its religious identity did not diminish under the Soviet Union’s rule, during which the Soviet government made a strategic attempt to extract religion from Central Asian satellites and replace it with Soviet nationalism. Outwardly, religiosity appears to be rising in Uzbekistan: mosque attendance is up and more women are wearing headscarves.
But there is a crucial detail on the headscarf bit: the problem isn’t that women are wearing headscarves. Tursunov’s objection is that women are wearing a specific type of headscarves. The imam’s preference, which Tajikistan’s Council of Islamic Clerics also stated last month, is that women stick to national or traditional dress, which has an optional headscarf. The Uzbek and Tajik headscarves often look more like kerchiefs than the Arab headscarf styles, which cover all or most of the hair, the ears, and the neck. The latter style is what Tursunov finds troubling, especially since this style is increasing in popularity among Uzbek women.
In pressing for national dress, the imams caution against the Arabization of Islam, attempting to revive Uzbekistan’s and Tajikistan’s Islamic identities rather than import them. This is not just a nationalistic option but a political one: adapting an authenticity that isn’t one’s own can lead to the distortion of Islam that we find in extremist groups like Al Qaeda. Tursunov’s comments on Uzbek TV also illustrate a cautioning against extremism, which would definitely cause trouble for these two secular republics.
I like the imams’ aims and I agree with their views. But at the end of the day, it’s still a bunch of men telling women what to wear (or not).