REPRESSION OF ISLAM AND MUSLIMS LAW IN TAJIKISTAN

ISLAM, THE GOVERNMENT AND THE LAW IN TAJIKISTAN

According to the U.S. Department of State: “There is no official state religion, but the government recognizes the “special status” of Hanafi Sunni Islam. The Center for Islamic Studies, under the president’s executive office, monitors religious issues and helps formulate the government’s policy toward religion. [Source: International Religious Freedom Report for 2014: Tajikistan; International Religious Freedom, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State |+|]

“The law on parental responsibility prohibits persons under 18 years from participating in public religious activities, including attending the Hajj, with the exception of funerals. With written parental consent, the law allows minors between the ages of seven and 18 to obtain a religious education in their free time outside of school classes and the state education curriculum, and to worship as part of educational activities at religious institutions.|+|

“By law all religious groups must register with the government to operate. The CRA oversees this process. In the absence of registration, local authorities can force a place of worship to close, and fine each member from 280-400 somoni ($53-$75) for first time offenders, 480-800 somoni ($91-$151) for repeat offenders, 800-2,000 somoni ($151-$377) for religious group leaders, and 400-16,000 somoni ($75-$3,019) for illegal entities. The government maintains a list of banned groups it considers extremist, including Hizb ut-Tahrir, al-Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood, Taliban, Jamaat Tabligh, Islamic Group (Islamic Community of Pakistan), Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan, Islamic Party of Turkestan (former Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan – IMU), Lashkar-e-Tayba, Tojiksitoni Ozod, Sozmoni Tablighot, Salafiya, Jamaat Ansarullah, and Group 24.|+|

“The law restricts Muslim prayer to four locations: mosques, cemeteries, homes, and shrines. The law on religion regulates registration, size, and location of mosques, limiting the number of mosques that may be registered within a given population area. “Friday” mosques, which conduct prayers five times per day as well as the larger Friday prayers, are allowed in districts with populations of 10,000 to 20,000 persons; “five-time” mosques, which conduct only daily prayers, are allowed in areas with populations of 100 to 1,000. In Dushanbe, Friday mosques are allowed in areas with 30,000 to 50,000 persons, and five-time mosques are allowed in areas with populations of 1,000 to 5,000. The religion law allows one “central Friday mosque” per district or city, and makes other mosques subordinate to it. Mosques function on the basis of their self-designed charters in the buildings constructed by appropriate religious communities or citizens, or with the assistance of the population. The law stipulates that imam-khatibs (religious leaders who preach sermons and conduct weekly Friday prayers), and imams be selected by “the appropriate state body in charge of religious affairs.” |+|

“The law provides criminal penalties for violating restrictions on sending citizens abroad for religious education, preaching, and teaching religious doctrines, and establishing ties with religious groups abroad without CRA consent. The law also provides penalties for religious groups that engage in activities contrary to the purposes and objectives set out in their charter, and makes the CRA responsible for handing down fines for such offenses.|+|

“During the year the CRA approved 23 applications to create a religious organization. During a January 14 press conference, CRA officials stated the CRA approved 135 out of 416 applications for registration submitted by religious associations in 2013. Of the 135 approved applications, three were central Friday mosques, 10 were Friday prayer mosques, and 122 were five-time prayer mosques. The CRA refused 238 applications for failure to conform with legal requirements for registration as a religious association.|+|

See Separate Article POLITICAL ISLAM AND THE ISLAMIC REVIVAL PARTY OF TAJIKISTAN Under Government

Islamic Laws Restricting Women in Tajikistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: Women from the majority Hanafi Sunni Muslim community remained barred from attending religious services by a fatwa issued by the Council of Ulema, the country’s highest body of Islamic scholars...A 2004 Council of Ulema fatwa prohibiting women from praying in mosques remains in effect, reinforcing official government policies regarding women praying in mosques. The fatwa states that, according to the country’s Islamic traditions based on the Hanafi school of Sunni jurisprudence, women should pray at home. Women of other traditions, such as Ismaili Shia and Christians, are not subject to the Council of Ulema’s prohibition. [Source: International Religious Freedom Report for 2014: Tajikistan; International Religious Freedom, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State |+|]

“Mosques generally enforced the 2004 Council of Ulema fatwa prohibiting women from praying in mosques. Many imams stated they believed they would face problems with the government if they allowed women to attend their mosques. On January 14, head of the Council of Ulema Saidmukarram Abdulqodirzoda told journalists that the Council of Ulema issued the fatwa prohibiting women from praying in mosques because mosques lacked the proper facilities for women to pray separately from men. For example, he said, most mosque buildings were single-story with only one entrance. Abdulqodirzoda stated that the Council of Ulema would repeal the fatwa if mosque facilities were modified to allow men and women to enter and pray separately from each other. Civil society contacts indicated that some Sunni Hanafi women were interested in praying in congregations, but faced obstacles due to the government’s prohibition on unauthorized religious gatherings.|+|

“Some women and girls who wore hijabs were discriminated against by government officials and denied access to public facilities. Enforcement was particularly rigid in schools...The government did not permit school and university students to wear hijabs. The MOE dress code did not permit teachers under the age of 50 to have a beard...On May 29, a teacher at a Rudaki District school scolded fifth grader Shukrona Davlatova for wearing the hijab to an after-school class and asked her to take the hijab off. Davlatova’s parents told journalists the teacher scared her to the point that she swallowed a pin from her headscarf that she had been holding in her teeth while attempting to remove the hijab.”|+|

Laws Prohibiting Islamic Practices in Tajikistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “A 2012 City of Dushanbe public disturbance regulation, which prohibits the use of external loudspeakers for azan (the Islamic call to prayer) in the city’s mosques if residents in the vicinity of the mosque complain to city authorities, remains in effect. Loudspeakers, however, remain in use for azan in many areas of Dushanbe.| [Source: International Religious Freedom Report for 2014: Tajikistan; International Religious Freedom, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State |+|]

“The law regulates private celebrations, including weddings and Mavludi Payghambar (the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday), and funeral services. The law limits the number of guests, eliminates engagement parties, and controls ceremonial gift presentations and other rituals. The religion law reiterates these principles, mandating that “mass worship, religious traditions, and ceremonies should be carried out according to the procedure of holding meetings, rallies, demonstrations, and peaceful processions prescribed by law.” During the year the Council of Ulema maintained its interpretation of sharia limiting beard lengths for men to no larger than the size of a fist and stating that women’s clothing should cover the entire body except for hands, face, and feet.|+|

“On February 12, the Islamic Center of Tajikistan, a supervisory body including the Council of Ulema and representatives from central Friday mosques throughout the country, which is considered to be the country’s highest Hanafi Sunni Islam authority, issued a fatwa stating that only clergy members may lead funeral or memorial prayers. This fatwa supersedes any conflicting last wishes of the deceased or his/her family. According to the fatwa, its purpose was to avoid disputes during memorial services which undermine the authority of religious leaders. Media widely reported a January incident between respected religious figure and former imam-khatib Eshoni Nuriddinjon and active imam-khatib Jamoliddin Amonullozoda over who would read the prayers during a funeral ceremony. The family of the deceased had asked Nuriddinjon to read the prayers, but Amonullozoda said that he should read the prayers, as the imam-khatib of the mosque where the ceremony was held.|+|

“On January 21, CRA officials told media that mosque leaders had installed video cameras in all 365 Friday and central Friday mosques across the country, and in all 51 five-time mosques in Dushanbe. The process of security camera installation in mosques began in 2012 with the stated purpose of ensuring the safety of believers. CRA officials explained that in rural areas they had installed video cameras only in Friday mosques, because rural five-time mosques lacked the finances to purchase and install cameras. CRA officials stated they intended to install video cameras in rural five-time mosques in the future.|+|

Restrictions on Mosques in Tajikistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “On January 8, Sughd Regional Department of Religious Affairs officials reported that 24 mosques in the region, whose activities officials had suspended, had resumed their activities. CRA officials said they had suspended the activities of mosques which were operating without registration or had submitted registration applications with late, incorrect, or missing documents. Once the mosques submitted the correct documents, Department of Religious Affairs officials allowed the mosques to reinstate their activities.| [Source: International Religious Freedom Report for 2014: Tajikistan; International Religious Freedom, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State |+|]

“On February 11, CRA officials reported that 11 new mosques had registered in January, including one Friday mosque and 10 five-time mosques. In February the Kulob Regional Department of Religious Affairs temporarily suspended the activity of 20 mosques located in Kulob District, citing a “lack of proper documentation.” According to an official, the mosques were located in public buildings not approved for religious services. Local authorities stated that the mosques would be allowed to reopen as soon as they submitted the required paperwork. Concurrently, Khatlon officials fined eight unlicensed imams in these mosques 280 somoni ($53) each.|+|

“There were reports of authorities banning religious expression or practice. On July 24, local media reported that a special commission of Khujand city officials had been inspecting Khujand mosques since the beginning of the year in order to verify their compliance with the requirements of a law governing religious organizations. As of August, the commission had inspected 26 out of 48 mosques and had suspended the activities of two mosques it found to be illegally operating in buildings not approved for religious activities. The committee filed administrative violation documents against the organizers of the “illegal” mosques.|+|

“On August 14, Kulob Regional Department of Religious Affairs head Sharif Abdulhamidov told reporters that since mid-July his department had officially granted 20 mosques in Vose District the right to operate. These mosques previously had been operating without government registration. Abdulhamidov stated that another 26 mosques in Vose District continued to function without government registration. He said, despite the threat of suspension and fines, mosque leaders were slow to submit required registration documents.|+|

Restrictions on Iman and Sermons in Tajikistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “At a January 14 press conference, CRA officials stated that the CRA had published a manual of sermon topics for Friday mosques which it would distribute to central Friday mosques and Friday mosques throughout the country. The 300-page manual includes 45 sermon topics promoting peace and tolerance, supported by relevant quotations from the Quran and from scholars of the Hanafi faith. A CRA official told media that imam-khatibs had asked the CRA to create a book to assist them in preparing Friday prayers. Although CRA representatives regularly emphasized during meetings with clergy that use of the manual was not mandatory, media reports stated some experts believed the CRA was using the manual to assert additional control over imam-khatibs. According to a May 8 media report, imam-khatibs from more than 10 Friday mosques in Dushanbe confirmed they had not yet received the manual, but received weekly brochures from the CRA with Friday sermon themes.| [Source: International Religious Freedom Report for 2014: Tajikistan; International Religious Freedom, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State |+|]

“On January 1, the CRA began paying Muslim clerics a monthly salary of 800-1,000 somoni ($151-$189), depending upon their position. Beginning in March the CRA also approved a robe for clerics to wear while performing official duties, and subsidized 25 percent of the robe’s cost.| On February 1, CRA representatives announced to the media that a commission consisting of the chair of the CRA, the head of the Council of Ulema, and other CRA officials conducted certification exams for imam-khatibs of several Friday mosques, as well as the heads of district and city departments of religious affairs. The purpose of these exams was reportedly to ensure imams understand religious law and practice and related legislation. Exam questions covered national legislation, sharia, and other relevant laws.|+|

“On May 13, a Kulob Regional Department of Religious Affairs representative informed journalists that a commission consisting of CRA officials, local Council of Ulema representatives, and imam-khatibs from 57 Friday mosques planned to meet with more than 500 members of the clergy in the south of the country. The commission was charged with certifying that imam-khatibs possessed a minimum understanding of the tenets of Hanafi Sunni Islam, including how to conduct public prayers. According the CRA officials, the CRA would ask mosque founders to remove imam-khatibs who failed to demonstrate the necessary level of understanding of Hanafi Sunni Islam from their positions and nominate other people for the position.|+|

“In February the Islamic Center of Tajikistan started giving two-month courses for head imams at Dushanbe Friday mosques to improve their knowledge of Hanafi Islam. During his remarks to attendees of the twice-weekly sessions, head of the CRA Kholikov addressed the spread throughout the country of “unwanted,” non-Hanafi Sunni Muslim traditions which were perceived as causing disagreements among Hanafi Muslims.|+|

Restrictions of Madrassahs in Tajikistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The religion law requires that all institutions or groups wishing to provide religious instruction first obtain permission and register with the CRA. Only central district mosques may operate madrassahs for high school graduates. Other mosques, if registered with the government, may operate religious schools for younger students. Parents may teach religious beliefs to their children in their homes, provided the child expresses a desire to learn. The law forbids religious homeschooling outside the immediate family. [Source: International Religious Freedom Report for 2014: Tajikistan; International Religious Freedom, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State |+|]

“During the year, the government closed at least two unlicensed madrassahs, “temporarily suspended” the activities of 128 mosques which were not registered with the CRA, and allowed 44 mosques whose activities had been suspended to resume their activities.|+|

“On June 11, a Sughd Regional Department of Religious Affairs official told reporters that the five madrassahs, whose activities had been suspended since June 2013, were scheduled to resume their activities by September 1. The Sughd Regional Department of Religious Affairs created a special working group to develop curricula and determine educational standards for the madrassahs to enable them to obtain a license from the Ministry of Education (MOE). In addition to religious subjects, the newly developed curriculum was to include vocational training. According to the official, authorities at the madrassah in Khujand had prepared all the necessary documents to receive a license from the MOE, and authorities at the remaining madrassahs were preparing the necessary documents to obtain a license in time to resume their activities at the start of the academic year. None of the madrassahs, however, had received licenses from the MOE by the end of the year.|+|

“The MOE oversaw implementation of legal provisions related to religious instruction in schools. Islamic education could be provided only at Islamic institutions. The MOE approved the rector, faculty, and all programs of study at the Islamic Institute of Tajikistan, the only Muslim higher education institution in the country. The government inspected the curricula at madrassahs and periodically monitored classes.|+|

Restrictions of Muslim Activities in Tajikistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “During the first half of the year, officials levied a total of 3,865 somoni ($729) in fines on 22 people for praying in an unsanctioned area. Over the same period, officials initiated 157 administrative cases against individuals for illegally teaching religious beliefs, levying a total of 44,760 somoni ($8,445) in fines. According to the CRA, 158 citizens were illegally studying religion in Islamic countries. In total, 3,054 citizens of the country were found to have illegally received religious education abroad; 2,896 of them voluntarily returned at the completion of their studies. The CRA requires that students have completed a higher education degree domestically and be enrolled at an officially registered university abroad in order to receive permission to study religion abroad.| [Source: International Religious Freedom Report for 2014: Tajikistan; International Religious Freedom, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State |+|]

“According to media reports, four imam-khatibs in Kulob District left their positions July 15 after they used electronic devices to identify qiblah (the direction of Mecca, which Muslims face during prayers). It was unclear if they left their positions voluntarily. A Kulob Regional Department of Religious Affairs official told reporters that “arbitrary innovations” in identifying qiblah caused confusion and inconsistency among congregation members. A commission of Council of Ulema members and imam-khatibs determined that the imam-khatibs could not sufficiently justify departing from the traditional method of identifying qiblah and said their actions were professionally untenable.|+|

“Officials inspected bookstores, newsstands, kiosks, markets, and mosques, and confiscated unregistered religious materials. Vendors were allowed to sell basic Islamic texts, including the Quran, the Hadith, the history of the Prophet, and prayer books. The government, however, did not permit vendors to sell Shia literature, texts considered “non-Hanafi,” or audio and video disks featuring prominent Tajik imams. Foreign religious movies, the sale of which the government had previously restricted, were available during the year.|+|

“Media and religious groups reported that authorities seized religious literature from Muslims, Protestants, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.| On February 26, media reported that representatives of the CRA, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Culture, and the state-owned Tojikkino film enterprise jointly raided the Korvon Market in the Firdavsi District of Dushanbe. A CRA official stated that they checked all stalls selling books and audiovisual products, and confiscated a total of 1,342 audio and video discs with religious content not approved by the CRA. Nur Studio produced the illegal videos in Tajiki, Uzbek, and Arabic. Law enforcement officials charged the vendors with an administrative violation and levied fines from 2,000-4,000 somoni ($377-$755).|+|

“The CRA regulated participation in the Hajj based on Saudi Arabia’s annual quota. It collected applications and fees for participation in the Hajj and made all flight and hotel arrangements in Saudi Arabia. More than 6,000 citizens performed the Hajj during the year. The fee to participate in the Hajj was 18,165 somoni ($3,655). NGOs noted that individuals who deviated from government-authorized Muslim practices and organizations were denied permission to perform the Hajj.

Persecution of Islamic Groups in Tajikistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “Human rights organizations stated that among the list of groups banned by the government as “extremist” were several minority Muslim groups. During the first half of the year, security and law enforcement officers detained 25 individuals accused of membership in banned organizations and suspected of committing 12 crimes under extremism laws. Of these 25, 18 were allegedly members of Salafiya movement, four were allegedly members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and two were allegedly members of Jamaat Tabligh. Approximately 95 members of Jamaat Tabligh and an unknown number of Salafiya adherents remained imprisoned for religious activities.|+|

“On September 22, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of 11 members of the banned Salafiya group for organizing the activities of an extremist organization. Seven members of the group received sentences of three years’ imprisonment, and four others were fined 60,000 somoni ($11,321) each. The court convicted the group’s leader, Karim Davlatov, of organizing a criminal group and sentenced him to 10 years of imprisonment.|+|

“On August 18, law enforcement officials announced they had detained five individuals in the southern district of Farkhor on suspicion they were involved in the Salafiya group. Authorities reportedly detained the five men as they were attempting to spread Salafist ideology in the Farkhor District central market. An official from the Farkhor District Department of Religious Affairs told journalists the detainees had long attracted the attention of security services with what the official called “suspicious behavior,” including praying differently at the mosque, ignoring traditional Hanafi Islam rules and procedures, and acting contrary to sharia.|+|

“In the first such case against a law enforcement officer, on May 9, media reported authorities detained police captain Sharif Mirakov under suspicion of membership in the Salafiya group. On August 27, local media reported that the Khatlon Regional Court began hearings after the conclusion of a three-month investigation into the case. Authorities charged Mirakov with inciting religious hatred after approximately 10 local citizens accused him of engaging in “unhealthy” religious discussions which caused enmity among locals.|+|

“On February 21, media reported that Komiljon Fayzov, imam-khatib at a five-time mosque in Kulob, was under suspicion of illegal religious teaching and inciting religious hatred. According to a national television report, Fayzov operated an illegal madrassah in the mosque, teaching the basics of Islam to individuals aged 12 to 30 years old. During a search of the mosque, authorities found more than 300 copies of religious materials, the majority of which they stated did not correspond with generally accepted Hanafi Islam beliefs. Fayzov responded that the materials were for his personal use and that he taught the students only text from the Quran. The criminal investigation of Fayzov was ongoing at year’s end.|+|

“State television reported that, during an early June raid, Hissor District Department of Religious Affairs authorities discovered an unofficial madrassah in Hissor operated by Hakimali Nizomov, also known as Qori Abdulhakim. Authorities opened a criminal investigation against Nizomov under sections of the criminal code dealing with prevention of obtaining basic compulsory education, causing physical or mental suffering, and bigamy or polygamy. According to media reports, Nizomov taught the basics of Islam to more than 80 children from three to 18 years old at the madrassah, which was located in four residential buildings near Nizomov’s residence. Parents reportedly paid Nizomov 300 somoni ($57) for their children to attend his classes. The education program was put together by the owner himself and covered the basic tenants of Islam. In addition, television reports showed bruises on the bodies of younger madrassah students who were allegedly beaten by Nizomov’s older students. Reports also stated that the school failed to meet sanitation standards.|+|

Repression of Islamic Practices Under Rahmon

In March 2015, Catherine Putz wrote in The Diplomat, “President Emomali Rahmon railed against women wearing black clothing–which he said was not traditionally Tajik. Rumors have circulated widely, thanks to state-controlled media–that prostitutes were donning hijabs in order to make more money. And the state announced last week that it would not permit those under the age of 35 to travel to Mecca on hajj this year. Couched in terms of practicality–Saudi Arabia lowered Tajikistan’s hajj quota–and deference for elders, the restriction nonetheless has upset some of Tajikistan’s devout. One man, a 31-year old petty trader from Dushanbe, interviewed by AFP said that “[e]veryday I pray to God that I might visit our sacred holy places. But now state officials have ruined my dreams.” [Source: Catherine Putz, The Diplomat, April 29, 2015 <=>]

“In the political realm, Islam has also suffered. In March flawed parliamentary elections saw the region’s only Islamist political party, the IRPT, swept entirely out of parliament for the first time since the end of the civil war in 1997. The IRPT maintains a secular political platform and in 2013 backed a secular, liberal, woman for president. Oinikhol Bobonazarova never made it to the actual election and recently spoke to IWPR about the arbitrary direction of recent lawmaking in the country. <=>

“Tajikistan, like its neighbors, has increasingly spoken out over the past few months about the looming threat of ISIS in the region. Although not all Central Asia analysts agree that Muslim radicalization is a serious and present danger, the governments of the region seem convinced. Numbers vary but the government of Tajikistan state estimates between 200 and 300 have gone to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Many, according to researchers, are recruited in Russia where they work as migrant laborers.” <=>

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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