MOSCOW - Wading into new a hijab row, Russian President Vladimir Putin has spoken out against hijab in schools adding to recent controversy over banning Muslim girls from attending school while donning the Islamic veil.
We must always treat the religious feelings of people with great respect. That must be shown in the state's activities, in the nuances, in everything, Putin told supporters, quoted by the Interfax news agency on Thursday, October 18.
We have a secular state and we must proceed from this basis, he added.
Comments made by the Russian President came after being asked for his view on the case of a school in southern Russia that banned girls from wearing the Islamic headscarf.
The problem erupted when five Muslim students were banned from attending classes in their school in the village of Kara-Tyube in the southern Stavropol region last week over wearing hijab.
Though they were initially allowed to attend their school in September while donning hijab, they were told later that they would not be allowed in unless they took off their headscarf.
School principal Marina Savchenko defended the decision, saying that wearing hijab violates the school policy, which requires students to attend classes in secular clothes.
The girls' parents filed complaints with the district prosecutor's office, complaining that the school had violated their constitutional rights to education and freedom of religion.
The prosecutor will issue a legal assessment of the incident within 30 days, and take appropriate measures if the school's headmaster was found to have broken the law.
Russian state media interpreted Putin's comments as expressing his backing for a hijab ban.
Putin spoke out against the wearing of hijabs in schools, the website of Rossiya 24 rolling news channel reported, according to AFP.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one's affiliations.
Signaling his opposition to headscarves at schools, Putin said the state must create equal conditions for all its citizens, calling for applying a uniform in schools and colleges.
We should see how our neighbors, European states deal with this issue [wearing hijabs]. And everything will become clear, Putin said on Thursday, at a meeting with Popular Front movement.
The Russian president insisted that attempts to stand out in multi-religious communities will sooner or later make representatives of other religions feel deprived of their freedoms and rights.
He also proposed that regional and municipal authorities should consider re-introducing a single school uniform at schools across Russia, as it used to be in the Soviet Union.
Putin pointed at the positive experience of some European countries which have a "good tradition" of introducing uniforms not only in schools but also in universities.
It is better if everybody feels equal, Putin stressed.
The Russian Federation is home to some 23 million Muslims in the north of the Caucasus and southern republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan.
Islam is Russia's second-largest religion representing roughly 15 percent of its 145 million predominantly Orthodox population.