BBC, May 15, 2003
Muslim women in Russia will be permitted to wear headscarves in passport photos, the country’s Supreme Court has ruled in what has been hailed a victory for civil rights.
The decision followed an appeal by a group of women from the predominantly Muslim republic of Tatarstan, who had been campaigning to overturn a 1997 Interior Ministry ruling which forbade women to wear scarves in the photos.
The passports are required internally in Russia for every citizen, but the Muslim holy book – the Koran – requires women to dress modestly, and women in many Muslim societies wear headscarves.
The Supreme Court originally rejected the ruling in March, and an earlier appeal by another group of Tatarstan women was also rejected by the same court last year.
These moves led to condemnation from human rights groups who said the rulings indicated growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.
The women had gone to court claiming that the ruling infringed their civil rights.
They also said that they had been inspired to file the suit after hearing that Saudi Arabian women were permitted to wear a full length veil in their passport photos.
The Russian Interior Ministry countered that wearing a headscarf or hat in a passport picture makes identification difficult.
“The Koran is not a legal document on the territory of the Russian Federation,” a ministry spokeswoman told Russia’s Interfax news agency.
“We have a secular state and no one religion should dominate.”
Russia’s Council of Muftis welcomed the decision to overturn the ruling.
“The Supreme Court, in effect, fixed the Muslim’s right to profess their religion full-fledged,” council co-chairman Nafigulla Ashirov told Interfax.
Russia has some 20 million Muslims out of a population of 147 million population, but rights groups have condemned Russia for fermenting anti-Muslim sentiment to aid its mission against separatists in Chechnya.