Walking around bareheaded among men is a great disgrace for Muslim women
The Russian Federation Supreme Court has upheld an appeal by ten Muslim women from the republic of Tatarstan and cancelled a decree from the Russian Interior Ministry, which had prohibited wearing headdresses in passport photographs, Interfax reports.
The appeal asserted that the decree of the Russian Interior Ministry violated constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion. Islamic strictures prohibit women from appearing among men without a special kerchief on - a hijab.
The Appeals Chamber of the Supreme Court abolished the decision of the civil collegium of the Supreme Court dated March 5th, 2003. The collegium's decision had dismissed the appeal of the ten Muslim women, who were defending their right to be photographed for a passport with their hijab kerchiefs on, as Islamic strictures demand.
The Supreme Court ruled the relevant decree of the home ministry null and void. Paragraph 14 of the decree (dated September 15th, 1997) about the passports of Russian citizens had set specific requirements for passport photographs: citizens are supposed to be photographed bareheaded.
The Muslim women who addressed to the court were motivated by the fact that underage female Muslims (under 13-14 years old) are always obliged to cover all the body with clothing, except for the face and hands. The Islamic holy book the Quran tells Muslim women to do this in order to avoid tempting males. Only her husband and close relatives are allowed to see a woman with her hijab off. Otherwise, the woman commits a sin.
The Muslim women claimed that the official prohibition regarding passport photographs infringed upon their rights and affronted their dignity. Any representative with the law-enforcement bodies may ask a Muslim woman to take her kerchief off, if her passport has a bareheaded picture. This would be a great disgrace for her.
However, officials of the Russian Interior Ministry seems to be believe that the kerchief is some kind of special way to disguise the identity of Muslim women: the hijab covers the ears, forehead and neck. Spokeswoman for the ministry Irina Bochinkova stated: "The Quran is not a legal source of rights on the territory of the Russian Federation. We have a secular state, so no religion can be a dominating one."
According to a letter of recommendation from the passport and visa department of the Russian Home Ministry from August 1, 1998, Russian citizens were not prohibited from taking passport photographs wearing headdresses in specific cases: for a minister of religion and for people who strictly adhere to religious dogma.
When Soviet passports were exchanged for Russian ones, several Muslim women managed to be photographed with their kerchiefs on. However, the passport and visa services of the Tatar Home Ministry stopped accepting such pictures in February of 2002. On June 17th, 2002, the Russian Federation Interior Ministry sent telegrams to the regions, in which it was said that the letter of recommendation of August 1, 1998, had become invalid.