The girls of the Salikhov family live in frontier country. Their road is dirt, punctuated by puddles and sheep, and their house does not have plumbing or running water. They had been hoping this would be the year the local authorities got around to hooking up natural gas.

Instead, they found themselves at the center of an emerging debate over religion in Russia.

When local school officials in the sparsely populated far east of the Stavropol region announced that girls in hijabs, the Islamic head covering, would no longer be allowed in government schools, the Salikhovs had to make changes.

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