The main Islamic political party and opposition party in Tajikistan is the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), led by Muhiddin Kabiri. The party has gobe through several name changes. Akbar Turajonzoda is a influential religious leader. Youth Party of Tajikistan, unregistered [Izzat Amon]. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

The Soviet-era Communist Party and the Tajikistan government both blamed opposition Islamic movements for violence and restricted their freedom to operate. The Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) and the Rastkhez (Rebirth) were the main Islamic parties in the 1990s and early 2000s. The IRP, headed by Muhiddin Kabiri, changed its name to the IRPT. It is associated with the Islamic forces that fought against the current government in the 1990s civil war and grew from the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), the major opposition party after the civil war.

The Islamic opposition in Tajikistan is the only recognized Islamic opposition in Central Asia. In the mid 2000s, it was still a participant in the government and had two seats in the parliament. It leaders talked of creating an Islamic society through evolution rather than revolution. Peter Leonard of Associated Press wrote: “Most of Tajikistan's largely Sunni Muslim population is secular-minded, and the IRPT wears its religious cloak lightly, stressing the country's Muslim identity while eschewing calls for the creation of an Islamic republic.” [Source: Peter Leonard, Associated Press, February 28, 2010]

See History

Small Islamic Groups in Tajikistan

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: There are Islamic groups in Tajikistan aside from the mainstream IRP that seek to bring changes to the Tajik state and society. These groups, all of them illegal, seek to create an Islamic state ruled by shari’a law. Included amongst these are the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Hizb ut-Tahrir. Other organisations are less clear about their political goals and confine their activities to non-political missionary and education activities. Most notable here are Jamaati Tabligh and the Salafi movement. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

In regards to assessing their disruptive potential, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) researchers outlined the difficulties: “Unfortunately, years of intemperate and biased assessments have muddied the waters of Central Asian jihadism to a state of near-impenetrable murkiness … The skeptics ignore the demonstrated presence of jihadist groups and their clandestine support networks. The fearmongers exaggerate the threat that small groups of extremists pose and downplay the gains authoritarian states reap from dramatizing the militant menace.

“A 2012 survey by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) found that popular perceptions of the threat posed by radical Islamist groups varied significantly between Tajikistan’s regions, peaking in the Vakhsh Valley, and were widely associated with Gharmis.50 Meanwhile, perceptions of unfair domination by Kulobi Tajiks in the most powerful of the government structures are widespread in Tajikistan. The echoes of the civil war are all too clear in these patterns.

“Wahhabism” in Tajikistan

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Mohammad Abd al-Wahhab, who lived during the eighteenth century in Najd Province of Arabia, preached a ‘strictly puritanical doctrine’, gaining momentum when he made an alliance with what was to become the Saudi royal lineage. Khalid stresses that the term ‘Wahhabism’ was used mostly as a ‘polemic foil in sectarian arguments among Muslims’, including in British India, as both colonial authorities and locals used the label ‘Wahhabism’ to denounce reformists and ‘troublesome Muslim opponents’. Accusations of Wahhabism were also common in the late Soviet era. Surprisingly, some analysts in the West took these agitprop invectives in good faith and enthusiastically announced to the world that ‘in some areas of Central Asia, particularly but not exclusively in central and southern Tajikistan, there has also been a resurgence of Wahhabism’. The question of how exactly the ‘puritanism and militancy of the Wahhabis’ might have become rooted amongst a population practising folk Islam characterised by broad humanism, tolerance and a liberal approach to other religions obviously never crossed their minds. For their part, Tajik academics have convincingly shown that the teachings of Mohammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, as well as radical doctrines of other Islamists such as Sayyid Qutb, are inherently alien to the majority of the eponymous population of Tajikistan. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“Khalid further notes that in the former Soviet Union ‘Wahhabism’ has ‘come into indiscriminate use to denote any and all expressions of nontraditional Islam’. In Tajikistan, the use of the term ‘Wahhabi’ as a pejorative for the Islamist opposition was used even by the mullahs who supported the government. They juxtaposed the alleged Wahhabism of Saudi origin with a local Sufi-influenced ‘national and traditional Islam’; however, a few scholars (for example, Dudoignon and Matveeva) and some local analysts have used the term as well—in a somewhat more neutral manner. For an example of a more systematic treatment, Niyazi acknowledges that a ‘very tiny section’ of the religious community in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan started to refer to themselves as Wahhabis, in particular after leaders of these groups returned from the hajj in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He completely rejects, however, any possibility of Wahhabi influences amongst the Gharmi Tajiks (that is, from whom the IRP draws most of its support). He blames a 1990 article written in Tajikistan by the head of the Committee for Religious Affairs for popularising ‘Wahhabi’ as a term of abuse locally. Niyazi also notes the use of the slang term ‘Vovchik’ (diminutive for the name Vladimir, but here used for ‘Wahhabi’) as an epithet against the ‘Islamic opposition’. While Niyazi’s article cited above is mainly a tract in praise of Naqshbandi Sufism, he cites the survival of pre-Islamic nature worship and elements of Zoroastrianism (both abhorrent to ‘Wahhabis’) in Gharm to refute the idea that Wahhabi Islam has made inroads here, rather than stressing the presence of Sufi Islam in the region.

“The debate over Wahhabism in Tajikistan during the late Soviet era suffers from lack of a clear definition. Neither Dudoignon nor Matveeva makes an effort to define Wahhabism for the brief use in their articles cited above. A more well-defined discussion of Wahhabism is found in the work of Bakhtiyar Babadjanov and Muzaffar Kamilov, which focuses on Hindustoni’s defence of traditional Hanafi doctrine and his arguments with certain reformist ulama in the Ferghana Valley (particularly in Kokand). They do note that Abd al-Wahhab’s work was available—but very rarely acquired—in Central Asia as early as 1979, whether acquired on hajj or directly from the SADUM libraries (which held Arabic works by Wahhabi writers). Despite the similarities between the reforms that many of the mujaddidiya ulama were asking for and Wahhabi doctrine, they find the use of the label ‘Wahhabi’ to be inaccurate.

Afghanistan and Other ‘Foreign’ Islamic Influences in Tajikistan

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Dudoignon notes Iranian influences in the IRP, but not religious ones. Obviously, the Shia Islamist ideology of the Iranian rulers would have limited applicability to a Sunni party like the IRP;159 but the Islamic revolution in Iran did provide a demonstration effect. Abdullo Nuri explained in 1994: The revolution in Afghanistan was an impetus to our movement. But the basis of our movement was the victory of Islamic revolution in Iran in which all the forces in the [Islamic] movement and all the Muslims trusted. After the Islamic revolution in Iran, these forces were convinced that when Islam was able to prevail in Iran, the same could happen in other countries, too. This gave the people self-confidence. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“Foreign Sunni ideological influences would seem to be more likely sources. The Deobandi school of Islam that began in India gets an occasional mention as an influence on Islam in Tajikistan. Niyazi writes that some mullahs travelled to the Ferghana Valley and to Termez in Uzbekistan to visit teachers. In Termez some sayids kept Deobandi teachings alive during the Soviet era;161 however, the only possible link between Deobandism and the IRP is the very weak connection between IRP leaders Himmatzoda and Nuri on one hand, and their one-time teacher Hindustoni on the other. Hindustoni’s students and Turajonzoda claim that Hindustoni studied at Deoband during his time in India—even though Hindustoni makes no mention of Deoband. Another South Asian influence may be the writings of Abu Ala Maududi—a Pakistani Islamist writer and founder of Jamaat-e-Islami—which circulated in the network that was to become the IRP.

“Ideological influences from the Muslim Brotherhood seem somewhat more likely. Like Wahhabi works, some Muslim Brotherhood writings were circulating in secret as early as 1979 in the Ferghana Valley. Kudryavtsev and Niyazi note that among the literature seized from Nuri’s underground circle in 1985–87 were works by Muslim Brotherhood leaders Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb and Muhammad Qutb. Nuri was clearly familiar with the work of at least one Muslim Brotherhood figure, which was demonstrated when he quoted from and referred to the group’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, in reverential terms at a 2003 Islamic conference in Iran. Both Roy and Olimova stress the influence of the writings of the Muslim Brotherhood in the ideology of the IRP. Roy explicitly classifies the ideology of the IRP and of Nuri and Himmatzoda in particular as that of the Muslim Brotherhood, while Olimova instead just notes the influence of Muslim Brotherhood writings in the IRP’s platform.”

“While it is true that following the revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the trickle of Islamist ideas coming to Tajikistan from abroad increased, in 1984 Alexander Bennigsen urged caution in assessing their impact. Even after the withdrawal of Soviet troops in February 1989, Afghan mujahideen failed to establish permanent channels of communication with their ‘oppressed brethren’ in the north (despite earlier fanciful claims).As one of the Jamaat-e-Islami leaders in Peshawar complained in February 1990, ‘there are absolutely no contacts between field commanders of the Resistance in the North of Afghanistan and citizens of Tajikistan’.It seems, however, that Islamist propaganda from Afghanistan was doomed to fail because of the lack of any positive demonstration effect—in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when some Soviet Tajiks were finally allowed to visit their relatives in Afghanistan, they were not impressed by its social progress achieved under Islam. In regards to the Soviet–Afghan war, the loyalty of Soviet Muslims was put to the test in Afghanistan, and, on average, Central Asian soldiers in the Red Army (including Tajiks) showed the same level of loyalty as any non-Muslims in the ranks.

Intellectuals and Political Islam in Tajikistan

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “When the All-Union IRP was formed in July 1990 in Astrakhan, it was heavily influenced by Islamist intellectuals rather than by the ulama. Concerning the Tajikistan branch of the IRP and the movement for political Islam in general, Mullojonov notes the support from and membership of Tajikistan’s ‘university intellectuals’. Niyazi notes that academics often had better levels of knowledge of Arabic and Islamic sources and thought than did mullahs and ishons. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

Niyazi himself, while not explicitly endorsing the IRP in his publications, actually provides a good example of an intellectual who favourably views the role of Islam in society. He writes: The ideals of an Islamic state concerning justice, equality, and brotherhood in our opinion are completely compatible with the commonly accepted contemporary understanding of civil society … The idea of a state ruled by law took root in the East on the basis of the universally accepted sharia law, which in theory eliminated estate, racial, and class privileges for the observers of the law, thus making the rights of the rank-and-file Muslim and the ruler equal.

“Niyazi goes on to note that the ‘Islamic opposition’ did become radicalised right before the outbreak of conflict, but that this was as a response to the government’s counter-opposition tactics. He stresses that ‘[b]efore the start of the bloodshed, supporters of “pure Islam” in Tajikistan were a wholly moderate movement’.

Harassment of Islamic Parties in Tajikistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The government interfered in the attempts of political parties to organize and conduct their activities. There were two attacks against senior IRPT leaders during 2014. On April 29, approximately 15 unknown assailants attacked IRPT deputy head and Member of Parliament Saidumar Husaini and other IRPT members at the IRPT regional office in Khorugh. The attackers chanted, “There is no place for the IRPT in the GBAO.” Husaini and one other IRPT member sustained slight injuries. Husaini told the media that the assailants were mainly employees of the GBAO regional administration, including local police. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Tajikistan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

On June 10, unknown individuals assaulted IRPT Chair Muhiddin Kabiri during a trip to Kulob to meet with local residents. Approximately 15 men and women threw tomatoes and eggs at Kabiri, accusing the IRPT of provoking the civil war in the 1900s and seeking to destabilize the country. IRPT spokesperson Hikmatullo Sayfullozoda told the media that cars blocked the road so that Kabiri and other party members could not leave the scene of the incident. *\

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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

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