HISTORY OF ISLAM IN TAJIKISTAN
Islam, the predominant religion of all of Central Asia, was brought to the region by the Arabs in the seventh century. Since that time, Islam has become an integral part of Tajik culture. Although Soviet efforts to secularize society were largely unsuccessful, the post-Soviet era has seen a marked increase in religious practice. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]
Over their long history, Tajik people and their ancestors have embraced many religions, including folk religions, Zoroastrianism, Nestorian Christianity, Manichaeism and Buddhism. The ancestors of Tajik people worshiped nature and natural phenomenon, especially eagles and hawks, which still have special meaning to Tajiks and are regarded as animal totems worshiped by the ancestors of Tajik people. The Tajiks have been Muslims since the 10th century.
The Sunni branch of Islam has a 1,200-year-old tradition among the sedentary population of Central Asia, including the Tajiks. A small minority group, the Pamiris, are members of a much smaller denomination of Shia Islam, Ismailism, which first won adherents in Central Asia in the early tenth century. Despite persecution, Ismailism has survived in the remote Pamir Mountains.
Folk Islam also played an important role in the survival of Islam among the urban population. One form of this popular Islam is Sufism — often described as Islamic mysticism and practiced by individuals in a variety of ways. The most important form of Sufism in Tajikistan is the Naqshbandiyya, a Sufi order with followers as far away as India and Malaysia. Besides Sufism, other forms of popular Islam are associated with local cults and holy places or with individuals whose knowledge or personal qualities have made them influential. *
Tajiks were originally Sunnis. In the beginning of the 18th century, some changed to Nizari Ismaili sect of Shia (Shiite) Islam. The followers of Shia Islam — Shiites recognize the fourth caliph Ali — son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad — and his descendants as the lawful heir of Prophet Muhammad. In their turn Shiites are subdivided into several branches. For example, Ismailis, who live mainly in the territory of Gorno-Badakshan. The name originated from Ismail, the son of Jafar as-Sadik, the sixth imam, and the head of Shiite community. The present head of Ismaili community is Prince Karim Aga-khan IV (born in 1936 in Geneva). Unlike Shiites, Sunnis do not recognize intermediation between God and people after the death of Prophet Mohammed and deny the idea of special origin of Ali and his and his descendants' rights to be religious authorities. See Shiites and Ismailis Under ISLAM IN TAJIKISTAN.
Islam survived in Tajikistan in widely varied forms because of the strength of an indigenous folk Islam quite apart from the Soviet-sanctioned Islamic administration. Long before the Soviet era, rural Central Asians, including inhabitants of what became Tajikistan, had access to their own holy places. There were also small, local religious schools and individuals within their communities who were venerated for religious knowledge and piety. These elements sustained religion in the countryside, independent of outside events. Under Soviet regimes, Tajiks used the substantial remainder of this rural, popular Islam to continue at least some aspects of the teaching and practice of their faith after the activities of urban-based Islamic institutions were curtailed. *
See Separate Article POLITICAL ISLAM AND THE ISLAMIC REVIVAL PARTY OF TAJIKISTAN Under Government
Shamanism and Islam in Tajikistan
Over their long history, Tajik people and their ancestors have embraced many religions, including folk religions, Zoroastrianism, Nestorian Christianity, Manichaeism and Buddhism. The ancestors of Tajik people worshiped nature and natural phenomenon, especially eagles and hawks, which still have special meaning to Tajiks and are regarded as animal totems worshiped by the ancestors of Tajik people.
Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Shamans in Tajikistan, called parikhon and folbin, are omnipresent; almost every mahalla in a village or city can boast at least one man or woman who is believed to have a special relationship with spirits and can thus: a) diagnose and cure illnesses; b) impose or lift a curse; c) interpret omens and forecast the future; and d) find missing objects and people. People’s belief in ajina, chiltan, miros and other supernatural creatures—hardly compatible with Orthodox Islam—has found its reflection in a Tajik saying: ‘Khudo zada bosh, arvoh zada—ne’, which means ‘If God strikes you—let it be, but don’t let the spirits’. In rural areas there still exist whole dynasties of self-styled medics who specialise in treating infertility or pneumonia through exorcism. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]
“Generally, in modern times, ‘the shamans have never experienced restrictions in their practice and coexisted peacefully with the clergy. There has emerged a sort of cooperation: shamans would send the ailing to mullahs, and mullahs would advise them to go to shamans’. Quite often, particularly in remote areas such as Yaghnob, one person combines the responsibilities of a mullah, hereditary Sufi leader and shaman. Common people in Tajikistan usually do not bother themselves with the fine demarcation of these terms and tend to refer to anybody with religious charisma, obtained through position, training, inheritance, divine intervention or otherwise, as ishon—a word that originally carried a strictly Sufi connotation.”
Sufism in Tajikistan
One form of Islam that has traditionally been popular in Tajikistan is Sufism — often described as Islamic mysticism and practiced by individuals in a variety of ways. The most important form of Sufism in Tajikistan is the Naqshbandiyya, a Sufi order with followers as far away as India and Malaysia. The first Sufi brotherhoods or orders headed by pirs and ishans were established In the 11th to 12th centuriess. Some of these orders still exist. The most well-known Sufi orders are Naqshbandiyya, Kubravia, Kadiria and Yasaviya.
Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Medieval Sufism in Central Asia had all the attributes of classical mystical Islam: several competing brotherhoods, hierarchal structure, degrees of initiation, missionary activity, and so on. In the nineteenth century, however, the link with the original Sufi orders was rather weak, Sufism degenerated into Ishonism—every big ishon virtually gave rise to a separate order, headed thereafter by his descendants. The dissociation of the Sufi brotherhoods led to the situation whereby an ishon became the only authority for his disciples, the sole source of spiritual authority that, according to the demands of the Sufi doctrine, was absolute. “Thus ishons, who originally were the middle link in the murshed–murid (Sufi teacher–disciple) chain, found themselves in a unique position: they wielded great power, without having proper knowledge and education. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]
“In Tajikistan, the surviving members of traditional status groups (sayids, khojas, mirs and tura) are often treated as ishons. In the early 1990s, a certain police lieutenant in Mastchoh, who was also a tura, acted as ishon for a group of people living in neighbouring Uzbekistan and collected sadaqa (alms) from them in this capacity. It is difficult to draw a dividing line between a collectivity of murids, an extended patriarchal family and a solidarity network coalesced around representatives of a traditional elite stratum. It appears, however, that purely religious murshed–murid dyads are quite rare in Tajikistan. In modern times the most prominent Sufi teacher in the republic was hazrat Pirmuhammad Sangi Qulula, who died in 1968 in the village of Olimtoy near Kulob. His funeral was attended by thousands of people from all over Central Asia, including several dozen high-ranking party officials. He was not, however, the only eminent Sufi sheikh in Tajikistan. Other well-known sheikhs were active throughout the country in the late Soviet era.
Mazors and Sacred Trees in Tajikistan
Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Mazors, or holy places, in Tajikistan, in a contradistinction with the situation in other Central Asian countries, are not necessarily linked to a burial place of some real or mythical Sufi saint. The number of such shrines in the republic is relatively small; the two most revered are the mazor of mavlono Yaqubi Charkhi near Dushanbe, and the mausoleum of khoja Ishoq ‘Makhdumi Azam’ in Hisor (both date to the sixteenth century). [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]
The bulk of the mazors in Tajikistan, however, are related to the primordial cult of trees, springs and stones, which are believed to harbour evil and benign spirits. It is not infrequent that the trunk of a ‘sacred tree’ constitutes the minaret of a village mosque. In rural areas every avlod has at least one mazor, and the living members of the family pay homage to them regularly, usually on Fridays and Sundays, to placate the souls of the dead.
“Some mazors are devoted to animistic deities (for example, bibi Seshambe, the patroness of maternity, and bibi Mushkelkusho, the spirit of good fortune), or even Zoroastrian religious symbols, such as a rather popular temple of the sun, ‘Shokambar Oftob’, in Vakhan. The pre-Islamic elements in Tajik Sufism (and wider Islamic rites) form an enormous subject in themselves, however, it appears that in everyday religious practice a thick layer of traditional beliefs is barely covered by Muslim rites, distorted as they are almost beyond recognition from their canonical versions.
According to Bennigsen and Wimbush: “[P]arallel Islam is represented in Tajikistan by the adepts of some Sufi brotherhoods (mainly of the Naqshbandiya) which are more structured than in the other Central Asian republics … The representatives of parallel Islam control numerous holy places which, in absence of working mosques, tend to become the real centres of religious life.” [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]
These same authors, however, made quite a different assumption in their earlier work: In Tajikistan … Sufi brotherhoods are less active and play a relatively minor role in the preservation of the religious feelings of the population. In this republic the holy places are less numerous and enjoy but a moderate prestige among the believers and the unbelievers. The religious life of the Tajiks is less dependent on parallel Islam and for this reason the role of the holy mazors is lesser than in Turkmenistan and Kirghizia.”
Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: ““This issue may indeed be confusing, so long as popular Islam in Tajikistan is viewed as an extension of official Islam par excellence, which has become important mainly due to the atheistic onslaught of Soviet authorities. It is reasonable to adopt the approach whereby popular Islam represents a certain way of life in its wholeness, far beyond the confines of a religious creed, and as such cannot be measured quantitatively. The statement that ‘there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that Soviet Muslims have ever been less (or more) devoted to their faith than they are now’ then makes perfect sense.
“There is much truth in the conclusion that for Tajikistan ‘the most important dimension of Sufism is not the sophisticated mysticism practised by the Sufi adepts but the Sufi embodiment of folk Islam’. Furthermore, popular Islam incorporates people’s ancient beliefs, vestiges of magic and elements of folklore culture. Thus this is a national phenomenon and [is] perceived by many as such … The non-conflictual co-existence of various, often directly opposite ideas, is characteristic of it … Popular Islam is loyal to the authorities and calls for the rejection of political struggle. “With this in mind, it would be easier to avoid the temptation to explain the retention of traditional customs as a manifestation of religious zeal aimed against the secular state—a theme favoured by some Western scholars from the time of Soviet rule to the present day.
Shiites in Tajikistan
About four or five percent of the population of Tajikistan are Shia (Shiite) Muslims. The Pamiri population of the autonomous province of Gorno–Badakhshan is mainly of the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam. These Pamiri groups generally speak Iranian but not Tajik languages. A smaller portion are devotees of the Ithna Ashari (Twelvers) sect of Shia (Shiite) Islam. The Tajik ethnic minority in China is the only ethnic group there who believes in Nizari Ismaili sect of Shia Islam.
Tajiks were originally Sunnis. In the beginning of the 18th century, some changed to Nizari Ismaili sect of Shia (Shiite) Islam. The followers of Shia Islam — Shiites recognize the fourth caliph Ali — son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad — and his descendants as the lawful heir of Prophet Muhammad. In their turn Shiites are subdivided into several branches. For example, Ismailis, who live mainly in the territory of Gorno-Badakshan. The name originated from Ismail, the son of Jafar as-Sadik, the sixth imam, and the head of Shiite community. The present head of Ismaili community is Prince Karim Aga-khan IV (born in 1936 in Geneva). Unlike Shiites, Sunnis do not recognize intermediation between God and people after the death of Prophet Mohammed and deny the idea of special origin of Ali and his and his descendants' rights to be religious authorities.
Under the Soviets, the predominantly Ismaili population of the Pamirs was prohibited from sending annual tribute to their spiritual leader, the Aga Khan in India, and his representative in Tajikistan, ishon Seid Yusofalisho, was arrested in 1931. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013]
Islam Under the Soviets
During the course of seven decades of political control, Soviet policy makers were unable to eradicate the Islamic tradition, despite repeated attempts to do so. The harshest of the Soviet anti-Islamic campaigns occurred from the late 1920s to the late 1930s as part of a unionwide drive against religion in general. In this period, many Muslim functionaries were killed, and religious instruction and observance were curtailed sharply. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, official policy toward Islam moderated. One of the changes that ensued was the establishment in 1943 of an officially sanctioned Islamic hierarchy for Central Asia, the Muslim Board of Central Asia. Together with three similar organizations for other regions of the Soviet Union having large Muslim populations, this administration was controlled by the Kremlin, which required loyalty from religious officials. Although its administrative personnel and structure were inadequate to serve the needs of the Muslim inhabitants of the region, the administration made possible the legal existence of some Islamic institutions, as well as the activities of religious functionaries, a small number of mosques, and religious instruction at two seminaries in Uzbekistan. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]
In the early 1960s, the Khrushchev regime escalated anti-Islamic propaganda. Then, on several occasions in the 1970s and 1980s, the Kremlin leadership called for renewed efforts to combat religion, including Islam. Typically, such campaigns included conversion of mosques to secular use; attempts to reidentify traditional Islamic-linked customs with nationalism rather than religion; and propaganda linking Islam to backwardness, superstition, and bigotry. Official hostility toward Islam grew in 1979 with Soviet military involvement in nearby Afghanistan and the increasing assertiveness of Islamic revivalists in several countries. From that time through the early post-Soviet era, some officials in Moscow and in Tajikistan warned of an extremist Islamic menace, often on the basis of limited or distorted evidence. Despite all these efforts, Islam remained an important part of the identity of the Tajiks and other Muslim peoples of Tajikistan through the end of the Soviet era and the first years of independence. *
Tajiks have disproved the standard Soviet assertion that the urbanized industrial labor force and the educated population had little to do with a "remnant of a bygone era" such as Islam. A noteworthy development in the late Soviet and early independence eras was increased interest, especially among young people, in the substance of Islamic doctrine. In the post-Soviet era, Islam became an important element in the nationalist arguments of certain Tajik intellectuals. *
Secularization of Islam in Soviet Tajikistan
Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Secularisation and atheistic education were permanent components of the party line in Tajikistan. The concrete policy towards religious observance, however, fluctuated substantially. Between 1920 and 1927, the secular state had to tolerate the existence of Islamic schools (maktabs and madrasas), real estate property of mosques (vaqf) and shari’a courts. The years from 1928 to 1941 witnessed a ferocious attack on the Muslim establishment: certain religious practices were outlawed, religious institutions were closed, vaqf was abolished and the clergy was thoroughly purged.The predominantly Ismaili population of the Pamirs was prohibited from sending annual tribute to their spiritual leader, the Aga Khan in India, and his representative in Tajikistan, ishon Seid Yusofalisho, was arrested in 1931. The Islamic courts were disbanded in November 1927, on the tenth anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]
“The postwar period was characterised by a somewhat more tolerant approach, with an emphasis on antireligious propaganda rather than blatant coercion. The effectiveness of the seemingly relentless struggle conducted by local authorities on the ideological front, however, was often questioned by Moscow. A special resolution of the CPSU Central Committee on Tajikistan (the only one of its kind throughout the Soviet period) stated in particular that ‘[p]arty organisations in the republic direct ideological-educational work aimed at the formation of a Marxist-Leninist outlook amidst all working people in an unsatisfactory manner … Lately atheistic propaganda has weakened and the activities of clergy and religious sects have been on the rise’. Obviously, the anti-Islamic drive in Tajikistan was often maintained as a sheer formality: in 1961, for example, of 43 women’s atheistic groups reported in the Panj raion, only one was functioning. Even foreign guests to Tajikistan noted the seemingly free practice of Islam.
“Sergei Poliakov’s description of the rural areas shows exactly how little Soviet rhetoric and policies on religion mattered to the people here. The ‘unofficial’ Islamic institutions had a great deal of relevance. For example, while counting unregistered mosques in northern Tajikistan, Poliakov found that every village had at a minimum one mosque, with some villages having multiple mosques divided by mahalla. As for the people who operated these unregistered mosques, Poliakov writes that the activities of the ‘unofficial clergy are neither controlled nor administered’. Olivier Roy gives nearly the same description, noting that each village and kolkhoz during the Soviet era had a mullah, who was usually registered as a worker.
Sufism in Tajikistan in the Soviet and Post-Soviet Eras
Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Mavlon Makhamov notes the prominent role that the Naqshbandi and Qadiri Sufi Muslim orders played during the pre-Soviet era in the religious life of the people living in the areas of what is now Tajikistan. It is his opinion, however, that the Soviet government destroyed these orders during the 1920s and 1930s—evidenced by the ‘overwhelming majority’ of Muslims in Tajikistan who are ignorant of these Sufi orders. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]
Makhamov does stress that while the orders—particularly the leading theologians and Sufi leaders who had an authoritative understanding of Sufism—may have been ‘destroyed’, Sufi pirs continued their work in a leaderless fashion: [T]he institution of pir (spiritual and religious mentors), though somewhat transformed, has survived in Tajikistan, particularly in the rural areas. Pirs were not officially registered, but they directed all ceremonial rites in the rural area. Pirs are regarded with greater reverence than ulama, representing official Islam. Some pirs have disciples and adherents (murids), and this fact is not concealed. They function openly, though not very actively.
“The role of Naqshbandi Sufism in society as protectors of the powerless against rapacious rulers is appraised glowingly by Niyazi: ‘In spring 1992, as government authorities continued to ignore the interests of a desperate peasantry, authoritative ishans from the southeast of the country rose to their defense. The naqshabandi tradition of intervention on behalf of land-workers and craftsmen was reborn.’ The Sufi notables of Tajikistan, however, also rose to the defence of other interests. The result was that Sufi pirs, ishons and their murids supported various factions in the conflict, overwhelmingly on the basis of regional affiliation.
Islam in Tajikistan in the 1970s and 1980s
Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “In the 1970s and 1980s, there emerged a kind of accommodation between the state and Islam in Tajikistan. It was characterised by two non-contradictory parameters: a) state-sponsored secular institutions and norms of behaviour dominated the public realm of social action, and b) religion was tacitly recognised as an integral element of private life—an element that would wither away with the progress of the communist project. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]
“Regarding the political significance of religiosity in Tajikistan, Grigorii Kosach maintains that the ‘Soviet experience showed quite clearly that youthful dissidence more often than not gave way to career considerations and adaptation to ideological and political realities’. Nevertheless, in the 1970s and 1980s, ‘underground and semi-underground’ Islamic groups were operating in southern Tajikistan. Early Islamists78 from the 1970s onwards were strongest in Qurghonteppa Province among those resettled from Qarotegin/Gharm. One group of Islamists in Tajikistan was reported in 1978 in the Qurghonteppa region, in the areas populated by Gharmi settlers. They consisted primarily of young men who, as a rule, did not have formal religious education, represented marginal strata of traditional society and criticised the Soviet and Islamic establishments from positions of ‘pure Islam’. Their grievances focused on: 1) the graft and corruption of local communist bosses; 2) the ignorance, licentiousness and greed of official and supernumerary mullahs; and 3) Soviet involvement in Afghanistan.
“The issue of Afghanistan was clearly also on the minds of those at the top levels of the scholarly community of ulama, as can be seen, for example, in videotaped debates from the early 1980s that include the top official Islamic leader in Tajikistan, Qozikalon Mirzo Abdullo Kalonzoda, the eminent scholar Mavlavi Hindustoni, and a prominent Sufi sheikh from the Hisor area, Domullo Sharif Hisori.
“It was argued earlier in this chapter that Islam could not play an integrative and mobilising role throughout Tajik society. That does not mean that Islamic ideology could not appeal to certain sections of the republic’s population—namely, those sections that experienced a high level of deprivation as a result of Soviet modernisation efforts. In Tajikistan, those were residents of Mastchoh, Gharm and Qarotegin; those who were constantly resettled, whose villages were destroyed while hydro dams were erected, and who were forced to forgo their traditional occupations for the sake of building socialism.
“To borrow from John L. Esposito: [Losses] of village, town, and extended family ties and traditional values were accompanied by the shock of modern urban life and its Westernised culture and mores. Many, swept along in a sea of alienation and marginalisation, found an anchor in religion. Islam offered a sense of identity, fraternity, and cultural values that offset the psychological dislocation and cultural threat of their new environment … Islamic organisations’ workers and message offered a more familiar alternative which was consistent with their experience, identified their problems, and offered a time-honoured solution.
Rise of Underground Islam in Tajikistan
Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “‘Underground’ Islamic education started as soon as the traditional institutions of Islamic education were closed by the Soviets in the 1920s; however, the use of ‘underground’ here needs to be qualified. Parviz Mullojonov, describing Tajikistan’s ‘underground Islamic circles’ that gained momentum in the 1970s, argues that it is doubtful that, in the general conditions of the USSR, such underground religious circles could have escaped the KGB’s gaze for more than 15 years. In fact the KGB’s national departments, which used to employ a broad network of agents among the Muslim clergy, knew from the very beginning about the existence of these Islamist circles. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]
“Mullojonov believes that the Soviet authorities were obviously aware of the young mullahs’ activities, but decided to leave them alone and let them weaken the ‘authority of the conventional clergy, which in the 1970s and early 1980s was considered by the Soviet power as the main evil’. In regards to the lower-level leadership (provincial, city, farm and factory officials) in the Vakhsh Valley, the leader of a network of Islamic teachers stressed that [a]lthough they were Communist Party members, in secret they maintained their original faith since they were the children of Muslims. Their connection to Islam was strong. As a result of this, even though they still did not help us, they deliberately overlooked and ignored our connection to this work [that is, unofficial Islamic schooling]. Through this behaviour they facilitated the dissemination of progressive ideas and the spirit of striving for freedom in the Vakhsh Valley.
“By the mid 1980s, however, the authorities began to see the ‘unofficial’ mullahs and underground Islam as a bigger threat and began to use the official clergy against the ‘unofficial’ mullahs. If Mullojonov is right and the security services considered the official Soviet-sponsored clergy to be more of a threat then this speaks even more about the Soviet Union’s inability to control society. Their tactic of using the two groups against each other—if that was actually the case—shows the further ineffectiveness of the state’s repressive measures. An effectively repressive state would just simply eliminate both groups; however, by the mid 1980s the Soviet security services did begin to arrest and ‘harass’ Tajik Islamists.
Loosening of Islamic Restrictions in Soviet Era Tajikistan
By late 1989, the Gorbachev regime's increased tolerance of religion began to affect the practices of Islam. Religious instruction increased. New mosques opened. Religious observance became more open, and participation increased. New Islamic spokesmen emerged in Tajikistan and elsewhere in Central Asia. The authority of the official, Tashkent-based Muslim Board of Central Asia crumbled in Tajikistan. Tajikistan acquired its own seminary in Dushanbe, ending its reliance on the administration's two seminaries in Uzbekistan. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]
Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Towards the very end of the Soviet era, the government loosened its restrictions, allowing the Qoziyot (the official Islamic governing body) and others to open new Islamic schools and mosques in Tajikistan, as well as to renovate mazors and to more easily organise hajj to Mecca. At independence the number of registered mosques surged. The great increase in the number of mosques—from 19 to more than 3000 between 1989 and 1992—has sometimes been cited as an illustration of the Islamisation of Tajikistan. In reality, this surge should be attributed to simple legalisation and registration of already existing religious institutions, or, rather, traditional gathering places in villages and mahallas. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]
“At least two factors contributed to the reasons the Soviet regime did not treat Islam as a serious threat in Tajikistan in the postwar period. First, the so-called ‘official Islam’, or ‘that segment of religious life revolving around the functioning mosques, registered mullahs and officially recognised religious communities’, was closely monitored and regulated by the authorities. All working mosques and clerics were registered with the republican branch (Qoziyot) of SADUM, as well as with the Council for Religious Affairs—an organ of the Council of Ministers of Tajikistan. Official mullahs were on a government payroll and their appointment was subject to the authorities’ approval. Second, the ‘parallel’, or ‘popular’, Islam, based on the activities of clandestine Sufi orders and popular cultural traditions and free of all interference from the state, had ‘too apolitical a character and too diffuse a structure to rally believers under an anti-Soviet political banner’.”
Islam in the Post Soviet Era
Since claiming independence the Central Asia nations have revived a religion long suppressed by the Soviet Union. More people are fasting during Ramadan and kornas have become important family possessions.
By 1990 the Muslim Board's chief official in Dushanbe, the senior qadi , Hajji Akbar Turajonzoda (in office 1988-92), had become an independent public figure with a broad following. In the factional political battle that followed independence, Turajonzoda criticized the communist hard-liners and supported political reform and official recognition of the importance of Islam in Tajikistani society. At the same time, he repeatedly denied hard-liners' accusations that he sought the establishment of an Islamic government in Tajikistan. After the hard-liners' victory in the civil war at the end of 1992, Turajonzoda fled Dushanbe and was charged with treason. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]
Muslims in Tajikistan also organized politically in the early 1990s. In 1990, as citizens in many parts of the Soviet Union were forming their own civic organizations, Muslims from various parts of the union organized the Islamic Rebirth Party (IRP; see Political Parties). By the early 1990s, the growth of mass political involvement among Central Asian Muslims led all political parties — including the Communist Party of Tajikistan — to take into account the Muslim heritage of the vast majority of Tajikistan's inhabitants. *
Islam also played a key political role for the regime in power in the early 1990s. The communist old guard evoked domestic and international fears that fundamentalist Muslims would destabilize the Tajikistani government when that message was expedient in fortifying the hard-liners' position against opposition forces in the civil war. However, the Nabiyev regime also was willing to represent itself as an ally of Iran's Islamic republic while depicting the Tajik opposition as unfaithful Muslims. *
Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The Government of Tajikistan, which is constitutionally a secular republic, has taken active steps to incorporate Islam into the fabric of nationhood, in contrast with other Central Asian republics. In 2008, President Rahmon announced Abu Hanifa (699–765 CE), the founder of one of the four major Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence, was an ethnic Tajik, and a year later initiated legislation declaring the Hanafi madhab practised by the majority of Tajiks the official creed of the country. The Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan has been allowed to function legally and freely (though suffering some recent setbacks), with the ultimate result that ‘Tajik Islamists abandoned Islamic state dreams and joined nation state making’. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]
In a 2010 national opinion survey, 81 per cent of those polled agreed that the government respected their freedom of religion; corresponding figures for other rights and freedoms were much lower. Incorporating Islam into the official political discourse may thus be seen as a success for the government. Its progress in promoting ‘Tajikness’, however, has been more modest. The same survey indicated that ‘nationality plus region’ and ‘region’ continued to be the main markers of identity for people, at 50 and 25 per cent respectively, as opposed to 9 per cent of those who viewed themselves as ‘citizens of the Republic of Tajikistan’, and 4 per cent who selected ‘nationality’ as their primary association.
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.
Last updated April 2016