The War of Billboards: Hijab, Secularism, and Public Space in Bishkek

In: Central Asian Affairs

In this article, we explore how religion claims its space in the city of Bishkek. The growing community of practicing Muslims asserts the right to be in the city, live according to its religious ideals, and create Islamic urban spaces. Such claims do not remain uncontested and, because religious identity has strong visual manifestation, religious claims become the subject of strong public debate. This contestation overlaps with socially constructed gender hierarchies—religious/secular claims over the urban space turn into men’s claims over women with both sides (religious and secular) claiming to know what women should wear. Yet research shows that Kyrgyz women in Bishkek do not really need fashion advice. The Islamic revivalist movement among women in the Kyrgyz capital has since the 1990s created a strong momentum that has a life of its own and is fairly independent. Muslim women wearing a hijab have become very visible and influential urban actors with their own strong claims for the city.

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