Tajik student prepared to seek help from international court
Second round of Dovlatmo Ismailova's battle with the national education system begins in the Dushanbe Municipal Court next week. Student Ismailova insists on her right to attend classes in the hijab [shawl covering face and hands all Moslem women must wear outdoors - Ferghana.Ru]. The Ministry of Education won the first round when the Shohmansur District Court took the defendant's side. Unless Ismailova collects this time, she says she will appeal to the Supreme Court of Tajikistan.
Here is an interview with Dovlatmo Ismailova.
Ferghana.Ru: Let's begin with a few words about yourself and your family, shall we?
Dovlatmo Ismailova: I'm 20. I'm a third-year student... well, ex-student now, I guess, of the Faculty of Oriental Studies of the Institute of Foreign Languages. Our family is large - 12 people counting the parents. I have seven sisters and two brothers. My parents are retired. Father was a mechanic with Tajiktekstil, mother a cleaner.
Ferghana.Ru: How come you call yourself an ex-student?
Dovlatmo Ismailova: The rectorate suspended me at first and expelled me as a "truant" when the Shohmansur District Court passed the verdict. I asked them to permit me to attend classes at least until introduction of uniforms but it was a waste of time. On the other hand, I saw how professors talked to girls in deliberately provocative clothes. They told the girls to wear something not so eye-catching from then on and permitted them to return to their classes.
Ferghana.Ru: How religious is your family?
Dovlatmo Ismailova: As a matter of fact, nobody in the family has religious education. We are somewhat casual about religious rites and traditions but we do pray. All my sisters pray but only two wear hijabs. It's an ordinary secular family, in other words. The father was a Communist until recently.
Ferghana.Ru: Are there any other members of political parties in the family?
Dovlatmo Ismailova: No others. I considered joining the People's Democratic Party when I was a first-year student. I even approached its organization at the Institute but they were not particularly enthusiastic about the idea. At least that was the impression I got. I decided then to do it later. It was three months ago that I officially applied for membership. They haven't responded yet.
Ferghana.Ru: Why the People's Democratic Party?
Dovlatmo Ismailova: I wanted to be part of the whole, contributing to the development of my country. It is not high-flown rhetorics and neither do I hope to promote my career or anything. I really want to make life easier for the people.
Ferghana.Ru: When did you start wearing hijab? And how did your parents take it?
Dovlatmo Ismailova: I began reading books and booklets about Islam, Shar'ah, Prophet Mohammed's commentaries in Cyrillic, and so on when still at school. Importance of living by the Koran and the Prophet's words eventually dawned on me. Wearing hijab is one of the laws for Moslem women. I began wearing it when I finished school. Father had no objections but mother kept saying I was begging for trouble. I would have trouble finding a job and so on - that sort of thing, you know.
There were catcalls at first - nun, odd bird, etc - but I never paid heed because I knew I was doing the correct thing.
Ferghana.Ru: And when you were enrolling in the Institute? Was there any trouble then?
Dovlatmo Ismailova: No trouble at all. I passed the exams and enrolled. Nobody cared what I wore all through my first year there.
Ferghana.Ru: And how do other students treat hijab-wearers?
Dovlatmo Ismailova: Students do not really care about who wears it and who doesn't. We maintain normal relations, quite friendly. It's a different matter of course when a person is without manners - everyone usually steers clear of people like that. What we wear, however, has never had any effect on the relations. As a matter of fact, I know a lot of young men who respect the girls wearing hijab. They often address me as "sister". Not because of hijab as such, you know. Because we stand firm.
Ferghana.Ru: How many girls wear hijab?
Dovlatmo Ismailova: Not that many. Fifteen or so is all I know. Regrettably, most girls bowed to the pressure applied in this whole campaign and do not wear hijab outdoors anymore. I know they fear expulsion. Well, everyone makes his or her own decisions. As for me, I'm not going to follow these orders that humiliate me and encroach on my rights. If they put it this way - institute or hijab, - then I chose hijab. I do not care that I'll have wasted three years because institute in this instance stands for slavery and hijab for freedom. I choose freedom.
No more of this meek swallowing of insults. No more lawlessness and discrimination on the part of bureaucracy. The Ministry of Education does not permit hijab wearing, the so called Ulem Council does not permit us to attend Friday prayer. All of that is against the norms or democracy and Shar'ah law. It is humiliating. I'm a free individual and I owe my freedom to Allah. It follows that only Allah can take it from me. I have the right to perform all religious rights. It is even guaranteed by the Constitution of my sovereign country where Moslems constitute more than 90% of the population.
Ferghana.Ru: And how are your studies?
Dovlatmo Ismailova: I had As and Bs. When our professors came over to talk to my parents about me, they never said a word of complaint concerning my grades. Ditto in the courtroom. Hijab is the only reason they expelled me. If you ask me, professors should worry about what is in our heads rather than on what is on them.
Ferghana.Ru: What do you do in your off time?
Dovlatmo Ismailova: Off time was rare before I got expelled. Besides, I also have correspondence courses at the Faculty of Economics of the National University. When I have spare time, I usually teach my nephews English, I know Persian, English and Russian, and I'm learning Arab as well. I think it will come in handy one day. There are also household chores that need doing. And yes, I watch Euronews.
Ferghana.Ru: Why do they call you Fatima?
Dovlatmo Ismailova: I decided to take this Islamic name. And I want to take another last name. It will be Fatima Najmiddin. Najmiddin is my father's name.
Ferghana.Ru: What are you going to do now?
Dovlatmo Ismailova: The Dushanbe Municipal Court will ponder my lawsuit one of these days. Either I win it, or I will go to the Supreme Court and to international court after that. I fully intend to fight for my rights.