TAJIKISTAN SEEKS TO RESTRAIN ISLAMIZATION
By Suhrob Majidov (02/16/2011 issue of the CACI Analyst)
During a meeting of Tajikistan’s Security Council on February 10, 2011, President Emomali Rahmon expressed concern about “the growth of religious-extremist feelings in the society”. According to the President, these “feelings” threaten national security and stability in Tajikistan.
As a result of the Security Council meeting, Emomali Rahmon instructed the State Committee on National Security, the Committee on Religious Affairs and other responsible state bodies “to strengthen explanatory work” among the population in order to curb the development of radical islamization. The President claimed that the rise of illegal religious-extremist groups in different parts of Tajikistan is supported by “their foreign patrons” and aim to overthrow the constitutional order in Tajikistan in a violent manner.
According to the President, there are two key issues which need to be resolved. The first issue relates to the operation of mosques. Emomali Rahmon believes that most of these operate illegally and that “the number of mosques exceeds the number of schools”. Another issue of concern to the President is that many students from Tajikistan study in illegal religious educational institutions in different Islamic countries. Thus, Emomali Rahmon urges relevant state bodies to make an effort to return these students to Tajikistan.
The relevant state and law-making bodies have taken previous initiatives to curb islamization by introducing several restrictive measures. The first was the introduction of new amendments to the Administrative Code. These amendments toughen the punishment for “illegal distribution” of religious literature. The authorities state that illegal religious literature comes to Tajikistan from Pakistan, Egypt and Iran. According to the regulations, the distribution of any religious literature is prohibited without special permission from the State Committee on Religious Affairs. The authorities believe that new regulations will help control the distribution of religious literature in Tajikistan.
The second step was a regulation of the operation of mosques. According to different sources, more than ten large mosques have already been closed in Dushanbe. According to a statement made by the State Committee on Religious Affairs, these mosques were closed since they have been operating illegally and were not registered with relevant state bodies. The imams of the closed mosques were warned that if they continue their sermons they will be considered criminally liable.
However, the closure of mosques stirred widespread discontent among religious leaders and ordinary believers. Imams of closed mosques assert that they have been operating for 30-40 years without any complaints from the authorities. Moreover, all the mosques were constructed by the means of hashar, i.e. the mosques was constructed for money donated by the believers themselves. Besides, the imams of closed mosques claim that they have been trying to officially register the mosques several times but relevant authorities refused to register them without offering any explanation.
The Committee on Religious Affairs under the Government of Tajikistan decided to go further in controlling the operation of mosques, teaching the imams how to deliver a sermon “in a correct way”. The head of the Committee Abdurahim Kholikov organized a meeting with the eight most well-known imams in the country. During the meeting, the Committee discussed the content of their sermons with the imams and pointed out “that most of them violate basic ethic principles and some contradict the law”. According to Kholikov, the imams took all the remarks into consideration and proposed the Committee to organize special training courses on legislative issues for imams.
Furthermore, the Committee on Religious Affairs announced that a special manual for imams will soon be published. The manual will be called “52 Friday sermons” and will be oriented at all heads of mosques: imams, khatibs and imam-khatibs. The manual will contain 52 themes for Friday sermons, one for each week of the year. According to the Committee, all the themes were determined by the special commission which was composed of theologists, relevant scientists and officials. The Committee expects that imams will not “digress” from the proposed themes.
Finally, the Minister of Education of Tajikistan Abdujabbor Rakhmonov signed a decree which prohibits teaching the discipline “Theory of Islam” in schools and ordered to remove this discipline from the school curriculum. This discipline was introduced to school curricula just recently, in September 2010. Instead of the “Theory of Islam” subject, the Ministry decided to increase the number of hours for the “History of the Tajik Nation” subject. As one representative of the Ministry declared “the history of Islam is tightly linked with the history of the Tajik nation”, therefore, it is enough to study the history of Tajik nation.
Tajik authorities have thus started a wide-ranging campaign on curbing radical islamization in the country. However, many experts agree that this campaign may result in active confrontation between the authorities and religious leaders supported by ordinary believers. Moreover, some experts assert that such efforts from the Government to curb islamization could worsen the situation further, inducing ordinary believers to take the side of radical extremists.