A growing Islamic identity for Chechnya

USA TODAY - 23 March 2012 - From Diana Markosian

SERZHEN-YURT, Chechnya – Seda Makhagieva, 15, had to fight to wear the hijab, a scarf that some Muslims say must be worn by women and older girls. "My family didn't allow me to wear it at first," the petite Chechen girl said as she wrapped a pastel-colored scarf around her head and neck, concealing every strand of her long, brown hair.

"They said I was too young. My mom beat my sister and me every day, but I didn't care: I am a Muslim and it is my duty to wear it."

Half of the girls in Seda's ninth-grade class in the Chechen village of Serzhen-Yurt near the Chechen capital, Grozny, now wear the hijab, a sharp break from local tradition. In past generations, married women in Chechnya covered their hair with a small, triangle-shaped scarf as a sign of respect and modesty.

But these girls are part of a new trend in the republic that has seen two wars in the past few decades and a rise in adherence to the kinds of codes promoted by fundamentalist Muslims. Some Muslims are fighting against it.

"I didn't want them to wear the hijab. I argued, yelled and even beat them," said Seda's mother, Rosa Makhagieva, 45, whose three daughters all cover themselves in loose-fitting, modest clothes. "My husband was against me. He said, 'If you don't allow them to wear it, I am going to make you put it on.' " (...)