The Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) is the Gharmi Tajik-dominated Islamic party. Known by several names during its decades-long existence, it has traditionally been the main opposition party. In the past it was known as the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), Islamic Rebirth Party, Islamic Renewal Party and Islamic Revival Party. The IRP was not able to gain official recognition until the end of 1991. It was the largest contributor to the opposition’s demonstrations in 1992 that preceded the civil war.

A branch of the Islamic Rebirth Party (IRP) was established in Tajikistan in 1990 with an initial membership of about 10,000. The Tajikikistan IRP was established as an open organization, although it was rumored to have existed underground since the late 1970s. The IRP received legal recognition as a political party in the changed political climate that existed after the 1991 Moscow coup attempt. Despite its links to the party of the same name with branches throughout the Soviet Union, the Tajikistan IRP focused explicitly on republic-level politics and national identity rather than supranational issues. When the antireformists gained power in December 1992, they again banned the IRP. At that point, the party claimed 20,000 members, but no impartial figures were available for either the size of its membership or the extent of its public support. After the civil war, the party changed its name to the Movement for Islamic Revival. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: The IRP was the only opposition entity able to survive the transition to civil war with any serious base of support. Most of the IRP-affiliated field commanders in the south were mullahs. The IRP was able to reach out to its network of local mullahs, each of whom could recruit their followers into militias; however, as regional loyalties had prevailed, aside from a few individuals, the mullahs of Kulob and Hisor supported the incumbent, or rather anti-opposition, side, which was to eventually take the name Popular Front. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013]

IRP-dominated Movement for the Islamic Revival of Tajikistan and junior partners such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan existed during the 1990s civil war. The IRP had sponsors in Afghanistan. In the 2000s, the 11 seats in parliament not held by the governing party included two for the Islamic Revival Party, four for the government-supporting Communist Party and five by independents. The Islamic Revival Party said it could win at least 10 seats — if not a lot more — nationwide, if the voting was fair.

Bruce Pannier of Radio Free Europe wrote: “The IRPT played an important part in Tajikistan's devastating 1992-97 civil war, which left tens of thousands dead and over 1 million people displaced. It was the only officially registered Islamic party in the former Soviet Union, and was represented in the Tajik parliament for 15 years until it failed in elections in March 2015 to meet the threshold for parliamentary representation. The party challenged the official results of the polls, alleging fraud. [Source: Bruce Pannier, Radio Free Europe, August 22, 2015]

In the 2000s, the IRP was the most influential opposition party in Tajikistan and the only religiously affiliated party represented in the national legislature of a Central Asian country. In 2003 the IRP lost its chief opposition issue as the ban on religious parties ended. After the death of long-time IRP leader Said Abdullo Nuri in 2006, a possible split emerged from the struggle for party leadership. Some antigovernment sentiment has been channeled into radical Islamic organizations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is outlawed as a terrorist organization, rather than into conventional political parties. [Source: Library of Congress, 2007]

Sayid Abdullo Nuri and the Roots of the Islamic Revival Party

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The origin of the Islamic Renaissance/Rebirth/Renewal/Revival Party (henceforth IRP) of Tajikistan was a group led by Sayid Abdullo Nuri that formed an underground organisation or network in 1973. This group, which eventually took the name Nahzati Javononi Islomii Tojikiston (Revival of the Islamic Youth of Tajikistan), operated mainly in Qurghonteppa and the wider Vakhsh Valley. Adeeb Khalid describes this group as not just an ‘organisation’, but also an ‘underground network’, which, according to Khalid, ‘represented hujra students who rejected the political caution of their teachers and advocated a social, if not political status for a purified Islam’. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013]

“One oft-mentioned factor in the activities of underground Islamists is the role played by the Soviet war in neighbouring Afghanistan. Of course, at the official level of the Islamic leadership there was vocal support for the war in Afghanistan. Qozikalon Mirzo Abdullo Kalonzoda publicly condemned the mujahideen, accusing them of ‘burning mosques and killing innocent old people and children’. But there was dissenting opinion away from the state-sanctioned Muslim leadership. Monica Whitlock writes of the effect of the Soviet–Afghan war on Nuri and his network: Nuri and his circle had been critical of the war in Afghanistan from the start. ‘It was an act of aggression against a fellow Muslim country. We said nothing in public, but of course we were dissidents,’ said one of the study group who met at Hindustani’s house. Hindustani had listened to all the news he could from Afghanistan, but made no comment except that to say that what was happening was absolutely dreadful. Some of his younger students were less reserved. Contemporaries remember that Nuri and others toured the villages, praying and giving homilies against the war in people’s houses. Nuri won an audience among families who had lost their sons for reasons they did not understand in a country only a couple of hours’ drive away.

“In 1986, Nuri was finally arrested for producing and distributing religious materials. The incident that precipitated this action was when Nuri, inspired by Gorbachev’s glasnost, sent a letter to the twenty-seventh CPSU congress expounding his ideas on freedom of religious belief. Moscow’s reaction was swift: on direct orders from the Kremlin, he was again put behind bars, and 24 of his comrades were sentenced to imprisonment for ‘anti-state propaganda’. When Nuri was arrested in the Vakhsh district in the summer of 1986 and taken into custody, his friends and kin, apparently concerned that Nuri would disappear in custody, held a demonstration in Qurghonteppa City outside the police building, demanding Nuri’s release. Whitlock frames the incident as an accidental boost to Nuri’s profile: The Afghan war was still going on, and a young teacher who was there said he saw the demonstration dove-tailing with other worries. ‘Four coffins had just arrived from Afghanistan … All dead were local boys. Maybe a hundred or a hundred and twenty people came, mainly relatives, and held a mourning meeting. Then a thousand more people came and wrote a petition, demanding that their sons be brought home from Afghanistan. Because Nuri was against the war, it looked like a demonstration for him, and he grew stronger then because people did not trust the authorities any more.

“Nuri was sentenced for his subversive activities to 18 months in prison camp, the only prominent religious teacher among his contemporaries to be given this punishment. Whitlock maintains that this incident gave Nuri a higher level of popularity than other young clerics. One supporter remarked: ‘The Soviet Union was getting weaker, we could feel it. People wanted a mulla to follow, they looked around, and they found Nuri.’ Yet, results were mixed. In the wake of this mini-purge, the Islamist movement in Tajikistan experienced a change of leadership: ‘domination gradually shifted to representatives of old influential religious families, mostly those of ishons (i.e., heads of clans of Sufi mystical brotherhoods, such as Qadariya and Naqshbandiya).’ The result was further moderation of the movement’s platform on the one hand, and a perceptible surge in the number of followers and material resources of Islamists, on the other.

“Nuri, after his release from jail in 1988, was given a job by Qozi Turajonzoda as editor of Minbar-i Islom, the official publication of the Qoziyot. He even went on hajj with the official Tajikistan delegation in 1990. Around the time of his release, Nuri ‘became aligned’ with other politically active men who would go on to form the Tajik branch of the IRP. Nuri soon became a high-ranking leader in the Tajik IRP, but still behind others such as the top leader, Muhammad Sharif Himmatzoda, and his deputy, Davlat Usmon. Nuri would eventually eclipse these men and become the top leader once the IRP was exiled.

Early Life and Political Activity of Sayid Abdullo Nuri

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Nuri was born Abdullo Saidov in 1947. His place of birth is Tavildara, in the now defunct Gharm Province. In 1953 the government sent his family to the lower Vakhsh Valley as part of its agricultural resettlement programs. Specifically, Nuri’s family lived in the ‘Turkmeniston’ sovkhoz (state farm), located in the Vakhsh District of Qurghonteppa Province. His father, Nureddin Saidov, was a sovkhoz director and a member of the Communist Party, while his older brother held a position of some importance in the local party apparatus. Nuri’s education was at a technical school and he worked as a driver, equipment inventory manager and government land surveyor—occupations that allowed him extensive travel around the province and numerous opportunities to preach to a wider audience. According to Roy, Nuri was given religious lessons at home by his father and by an unnamed ‘unofficial cleric’ before studying under Muhammadjon Hindustoni. In an interview, Nuri named this ‘unofficial cleric’ as domullo Siyomuddin, stressing that ‘89 per cent’ of his studies were completed under this teacher. After studying under Siyomuddin, he moved on to become a student of Mavlavi Hindustoni, a well-known Islamic scholar, for two to three years. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“Nuri commented on the activities of his group, which he mostly refers to as a sozmon (which can be translated as ‘organisation’ or ‘society’), but also as a junbish or harakat (both translate to ‘movement’). In his recollection, preparations for the formation of this group began in 1971. Nuri stresses that this process was quickened by a February 1973 KGB raid in the Hippodrome mahalla of Dushanbe that resulted in the arrest of 30 students in Nuri’s network. This raid, which narrowly missed catching Hindustoni in class, gave a sense of urgency to Nuri and his associates. On 20 April 1973, Nuri met with four senior scholars, including Hindustoni, and was selected to lead an underground Islamic movement that later gained many members from Nuri’s generation (as opposed to the four senior scholars who selected Nuri), including the IRP’s first official leader, Muhammadsharif Himmatzoda, and deputy leader, Davlat Usmon.For the first one or two years, Nuri’s group operated without a name until one was agreed upon: Nahzati Javononi Islomii Tojikiston—referred to by members as Nahzat (‘revival’) or Jamiyat (‘society’). Nuri is clear on the goals of Nahzat: With the creation of our own organisation, we did not have any goals of anti-state activities; we only wanted to disseminate the beliefs of Islam amongst the youth. In essence, our organisation or movement in the beginning was a movement for Islamic social reforms, not a political movement. The main goal was to invite [those Muslims who had strayed] back to Islam, as well as the education of Muslim children.

“Nuri’s Nahzat had several departments: 1) proselytising (davat), 2) security (from KGB efforts to ascertain their activities), 3) finances, and 4) education. Nuri argues that this structure borrows nothing that is foreign, which he uses to bolster his argument for the indigenous nature of Nahzat—an organisation that he stresses needed nothing and received no influences from outside local society. The Islamists were few, they did not advocate changing the Soviet system and, generally, they kept a low profile. Kudryavtsev and Niyazi state that before the 1990s the underground Islamic activists in Tajikistan ‘[s]till retained a belief in the strength of the Soviet Union, within which the dream of an Islamic polity seemed absurd’. Nevertheless, there were some exceptions. In 1978, a handful of them, led by Nuri, by this time a self-proclaimed spiritual leader of Gharmi settlers in the Vakhsh raion, held a rally in front of the Qurghonteppa CPT obkom; Nuri was arrested, but otherwise the authorities ignored the incident and no large-scale reprisals took place. During the mid 1980s, Nuri was operating an underground Islamic school in Qurghonteppa. His work did not go unnoticed. Soviet authorities warned Nuri to desist with his religious activities in 1983. Khalid writes that Nuri, while not providing exact details of his plans for the form of the future state structure, began ‘arguing in public, usually at well-attended feasts marking life-cycle events, for the establishment of an Islamic state in Tajikistan’.

Formal Beginning of the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The IRP of Tajikistan was officially established on 6 October 1990 as a branch of the Soviet Union-wide IRP, which was formed three months earlier in Russia. Dudoignon speculates that in 1990 the Tajik IRP was given some support by the Kremlin leadership. The reason for this is that the Kremlin leadership saw the IRP as a force that could take support away from nationalists while also pushing against the recalcitrant segment of the Communist Party in Tajikistan that was giving the Kremlin problems. Whatever the case at the union level, Tajik first secretary Mahkamov’s government spared no efforts to suppress the Islamist movement. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“In November 1990, the CPT CC officially condemned the attempt to set up a branch of the union-wide IRP in Tajikistan. In December 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the Tajik SSR outlawed the IRP and ordered the republic’s KGB, Ministry of Interior and the Prosecutor’s Office to prevent any IRP activities. Even before this series of events, a media campaign was launched to portray Tajik Islamists as terrorists trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or, alternatively, in Saudi Arabia and Iran with CIA money, who desired to ‘found an exclusively Islamic society through physical elimination of ideological opponents and non-believers, and general genocide’.The IRP was even accused of organising the riots in Dushanbe in February 1990 on behalf of ‘the Wahhabis and other fundamentalist Islamic forces from abroad’.

“Mahkamov’s government refused to enter into a dialogue with Tajik Islamists, but at the same time it failed to follow the hard line of Uzbekistan’s leader, Islom Karimov, who clamped down on the nascent IRP of Uzbekistan in the summer of 1990, arresting some 400 delegates of its first conference. The Tajik government confined itself to half-measures, such as imposing fines on Islamist activists; eventually, not a single person was tried in the republic for defying the anti-IRP legislation. Lacking the political will for either compromise or drastic action, the authorities tried to weaken the Islamist movement by wooing the official Muslim establishment. On 8 December 1990, the Supreme Soviet of Tajikistan passed a law ‘On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations’, which resolutely broke with the communist tradition of atheism, allowed religious organisations and individuals to take part in political life, provided for the re-creation of the institution of vaqf and permitted religious education for children over seven years of age. The ban on the IRP would eventually be temporarily lifted in September 1991 during the brief administration of interim president Qadriddin Aslonov, before being reinstated when Aslonov stepped down. Legal recognition finally came at the end of 1991. On 26 October 1991, the IRP of Tajikistan held its first congress in a former Communist Party centre, with 657 delegates, 310 guests and 50 journalists attending. The congress, which was opened by Dushanbe mayor, Maqsud Ikromov, elected Muhammad Sharif Himmatzoda as leader and Davlat Usmon as the first deputy leader.

“The Tajikistan branch of the IRP soon broke relations with the wider IRP. Not only was the existence of an official clergy an obstacle to the Soviet-wide IRP, the nationalist cleavages within the organisation hurt coordination, while the ambitions of the overall leadership conflicted with those of the Tajik IRP. The IRP’s federal leadership, which had supported the continuation of the Soviet Union, endorsed the communist candidate Rahmon Nabiyev in October 1991 for the upcoming elections while condemning the Tajik IRP for allying with nationalists, whom the Tajik IRP had earlier criticised. This ended relations between the Tajik IRP and the federal organisation. By mid to late 1992, the IRP leadership was claiming a membership of 30 000, making it the second ‘strongest’ in terms of numbers behind only the Communist Party.

Influences of Muhammadjon Hindustoni on the Islamic Revival Party

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Muhammadjon Rustamov (1892–1989), better known as ‘Hindustoni’ for his time spent in India (Hinduston in Tajik), studied Islam near his place of birth in Kokand (now in Uzbekistan) and then in Bukhara. During the Bolshevik revolution he went to Afghanistan and studied in Mazar-i Sharif before returning to Bukhara with his Afghan teacher. He soon accompanied his teacher, Muhammad Ghawth (also ‘Ghaus’), to the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad where Ghawth was appointed as the Qozi. From Jalalabad, Hindustoni went to India, where he studied at the Usmania madrasa in Ajmer for eight years, completing his studies. He returned home and settled in Kokand in 1929. During the anti-religious communist attacks of the 1930s, Hindustoni served two jail terms, including three years in Siberia. In 1940 he took up employment in a Kokand factory before being drafted into the military in 1943. He was badly wounded on the eastern front in Belarus and spent the next three years in hospital. After a year at home he moved to Dushanbe where SADUM officials eventually appointed him imam-khotib of a local mosque. After almost a year in Tajikistan, he was denounced and served more than four years in prison. In 1953, after Stalin’s death, Hindustoni was rehabilitated and appointed to a post in Tajikistan’s Academy of Sciences, where he spent most of his time translating Arabic texts and teaching Urdu. From the early 1960s Hindustoni developed a full Islamic curriculum that he taught in secret. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“Hindustoni went on to become a teacher of both Nuri and Himmatzoda. Hindustoni’s ‘clandestine’ madrasa in Dushanbe was closed by the KGB in 1973, but students and teachers ‘came out of it safely, thanks to family connections and corruption’. Adeeb Khalid summarises Hindustoni’s beliefs: In his teaching and his writing, he took consistently conservative positions rooted in the local Hanafi tradition. He had little use for modernist reform … Two aspects of his conservatism are worth noting: he defended local customs and traditions against attacks from all directions, and he took a resolutely quietist stance on questions of politics. Soviet rule was a test for believers, in which success lay in reliance on God (tavakkul) and patience (sabr) rather than in political or military struggle.

“Khalid goes on to describe how some of Hindustoni’s students rebelled against him and his ‘conservatism and his quietism’ in particular. Before the disagreements expanded into a larger dispute about broader issues within the ‘milieu of underground Islamic learning (hujra)’, the hostilities started with Hindustoni’s students adopting Hanbali rituals as opposed to the dominant Hanafi forms practised in Central Asia. The students’ view was that the Hanbali school was more closely associated with Arab countries and therefore purer and ‘uncontaminated by local traditions’. Furthermore, Hindustoni did not approve of the way some of his former students were mixing religion and politics. Whitlock hints that it was his long view of human ambitions and failings that made him conservative on this issue. Hindustoni felt that some of his former students in the Ferghana Valley were advocating a confrontation with the Soviet state that would be disastrous for Muslims, especially considering the recent gains in freedoms they had made. The arguments at the time (mid 1970s to mid 1980s) became quite heated, as can be seen in excerpts—both defensive143 and offensive in nature—from Hindustoni’s open reply to those who accused him of apostasy and of being beholden to an atheist state. Nor did Hindustoni approve of the theological views of his former students.

“Khalid writes: The students called themselves the mujaddidiya, the renovators, while calling their opponents mushriklar, polytheists. Hindustoniy, for his part, argued that local customs were based on a long tradition of Hanafi jurisprudence, which in itself was based on the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet, and that by forswearing accepted Hanafi dogma, his critics had placed themselves beyond the bounds of the Sunni community of Central Asia and had become ‘Wahhabis.’ Hindustoniy’s use of this term owed a lot to his time in India, where such debates over ritual purity were common and where opponents of the purists had long dubbed them Wahhabis. Thus, the term Wahhabi entered religious debate in Central Asia, from where it was to spread throughout the lands of the former Soviet Union.

Development of Islamic Revival Party Ideology

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The Soviet Union-wide federal IRP was formed in July 1990 in Astrakhan, Russia. The ideology of this organisation was based on adherence to the statutes of the Koran and Sunna. The IRP, as spelled out in its charter, saw itself up against not just certain non-Muslim forces, but also a Muslim community that was acting against ‘universal morality and the sharia’, and which was ‘divided, ignorant, downtrodden, and infected with the nationalist and democratic ideas’. The attack on ‘democratic ideas’ is likely a reference to the ‘Western-style’ democrats of the Soviet Union/Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) rather than to elections, as the IRP advocated for its goals to be achieved through democratic means. In its publications, the IRP attacked the official Muslim clergy, the leadership of the Muslim republics of the CIS, the ‘national-democratic movements’ in those republics, the use of Islam by those movements, the history of Russian and Soviet oppression of Muslims, and the ‘state of ignorance, superstition, disunity and individualism prevailing among ordinary Muslims’. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“Tajik delegates participated actively in the first conference of the Islamic Revival Party of the USSR (IRPU), held in Astrakhan on 9 June 1990, and a close associate of Sayid Abdullo Nuri, Davlat Usmon, was elected chairman of the mandate commission of the newly established party and a member of its supreme body: the Council of Ulama. Shortly afterwards, the IRPU program was published in the underground bulletin of Tajik Islamists. Its main tenets could be summarised as follows: 1) the IRPU is a socio-political organisation which operates on lofty Islamic principles; 2) the party consists of honest Muslims who fight for a revived and pure Islam by spreading the truth of the Quran and Sunna amongst the people; 3) the party operates on a constitutional basis, condemns terrorism and reactionary theory and praxis, and respects all international treaties and agreements if they are not in violation of Islamic norms; 4) the party respects human rights and upholds legal equality between Muslims and non-Muslims; 5) the party demands cessation of state-sponsored atheistic propaganda, and contrives to establish Islamic educational centres, train qualified personnel, organise lectures, discussions and other events to spread the knowledge of Islam; 6) the party strives to protect the honour and dignity of women, appreciates their active role in society and helps them to realise themselves fully in all capacities; 7) the party favours modern economic development based on Islamic principles of pluralism; it supports environmental protection and health programs, and strong and durable families.

“The IRPU advocated a federation of Muslim states that would include the Muslim-dominated areas of the CIS and some neighbouring Muslim regions. This federation would have elected Muslim leaders in a system that would implement a new era of the ‘Righteous Caliphs’. The IRPU provided some specific examples of what the new political and social order would entail. These included zakat (Islamic tax) and sadaqa (Islamic charity), the introduction of shari’a-compliant banking, as well as dhimmi status for Christians and Jews, despite their earlier declaration of legal equality. Dudoignon notes that the IRPU was ‘classically neo-fundamentalist’ in its tenets such as proselytising, resisting the official clergy and advocating the Islamic taxes of zakat and sadaqa; however, he also notes the organisation’s attempt to reassure the broader public of its moderate character through the use of ‘fairly well-known’ rhetoric (for example, Islam is ‘humanist’, ‘pacifist’ and ‘progressive’).

“The IRPU was registered in Moscow, but when its Tajik members applied for official recognition of the republican IRP, the authorities in Dushanbe turned them down. Nevertheless, the union-wide IRP illegally convened a regional conference organised by Davlat Usmon in the village of Chortut near Dushanbe in October 1990.189 For the Tajikistan branch of the IRP in 1990 there was little coherence in organisation, platform and public message. The message at the top levels of the party, however, was somewhat clearer. And once again, the IRP’s publicly enunciated political agenda appeared to be rather moderate; according to Davlat Usmon, the party did not have the aim of establishing an Islamic state even in the remote future.

“What the early Tajik IRP lacked in organisation, it compensated for in enthusiasm. Niyazi, writing in late 1990, assesses the IRP’s motivations in a very favourable manner: Now [IRP] fundamentalist activities are primarily aimed at strengthening religion. These people are united in their desire to free religious life from ubiquitous state supervision and to restore society’s morals in accordance with Islamic ethics contained in the fikh. They want to restore and build new mosques, promote religious education, and urge Moslems to fulfill properly the prescribed rites and ceremonies. Many are demanding permission for women to attend sermons in mosques. They are appealing to their coreligionists to live modestly, to be humble and to refrain from wasting money on sumptuous parties at the expense of family well-being. It is having an effect. In many regions people are spending less on weddings, funerals, rituals of circumcision and so on. The consumption of alcohol in rural areas has decreased and Moslems in the towns have also become more moderate in their drinking.

“In other words, the fundamentalists have succeeded where the state has failed. A specific example is important here. In the field of politics the Tajik IRP is against any party having a monopoly of power. It seeks to establish a legal state with normal parliamentary activity based on equal rights for all political forces in the republic. It is willing to cooperate with all reasonable political forces, including the communists. The leadership of the party undertakes to act in accordance with international and union laws and condemns nationalism in all its forms.

Islamic Revival Party Platform

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The official charter and platform of the IRP of Tajikistan were adopted at its October 1991 congress. The published IRP platform194 included references to the importance of cultural, social, ‘moral’ and political factors in Tajikistan and advocated national independence, free elections and a multiparty democracy, a ‘decent life’ for all citizens regardless of religion or ethnicity, and education of the people in Islamic principles. The platform reaches beyond religious and moral advocacy, and includes full sections on the economy, science and culture, ideology, health, and environmental protection. The call for democratic independence is clearly stressed: The IRP stands for a multiparty system and free competition for the party. The IRP maintains links with all the democratic forces of the Republic and with all the democratic and Islamic movements from foreign countries. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“The IRP calls for the unity of all parties and movements in order to cooperate for the sake of independence and national freedom in the name of liquidating all vestiges of colonial dependence. Islam is, however, mentioned first, last and most often—even beyond the affirmations of some of the basic tenets of Islam. The program opens with these two lines: ‘IRP develops its program based on pure Islamic religion. Islam for us is a law and a guide for all political issues. The overriding purpose of IRP is the implementation of education of the people on the principles of Muslim religion.’

“The most important point is inserted as a main point in the section on ‘ideology’, wherein the IRP states that it ‘recognises no law that contradicts the shari’a’; however, the IRP does not publicly state in its program what exactly it believes ‘contradicts the shari’a’. As for how the IRP would restructure the state and society, Kudryavtsev and Niyazi stress that the leaders of the Tajik IRP ‘made no secret … [of] their ultimate goal—adoption of an independent Islamic republic of Tajikistan’. As late as 1991–92, the IRP’s goal was the creation—but not immediately—of an Islamic state. This was to be achieved, according to the IRP, through an election victory and then a referendum; however, this desired end-state was modified when the IRP realised that this goal was not supported by many people in Tajikistan. During the lead-up to the civil war, representatives of the IRP, as well as Qozi Turajonzoda, stated to audiences both foreign and domestic (including when addressing supporters) that an Islamic state, however desirable in the long term, could not be a model for Tajikistan in the near term as the people were not ready, nor did they want it. Khalid argues that at this time the focus of the IRP leadership was ‘on breaking the hold of the incumbent elites on power—rather than on imposing Islamic law or Islamic norms on society’. The Henry Dunant Centre notes that in official party statements the IRP stressed that it would take 50 to 60 years to accomplish their goal of educating ‘the people in the Islamic spirit’, but that ‘many had the impression that the opposition was not going to wait that long’.

“Atkin writes that in response to the IRP’s attempt to portray itself as a moderate organisation willing to work in cooperation with other political forces, the incumbent political elites and their supporters framed the post-independence political struggle as one of ‘modern, secular democracy against radical Islamicizers, who[se] secular coalition partners were mere window dressing’. A decade later Davlat Usmon, the former IRP deputy leader, was still ambiguous regarding the goals of the IRP when he remarked that ‘[t]he mistake of the Islamic opposition was that at the beginning it expressed its opinions too clearly. It frightened Russia and neighbouring Uzbekistan.’ Within Tajikistan the rejection of an Islamic state is shown clearly in two polls conducted in late 1991 and mid 1992. The key findings from the respondents in Tajikistan were: 1) in 1991–92, ‘Islamicisation in Tajikistan’ was supported by only 5–6 per cent while 74–77 per cent of respondents wanted to ‘preserve the secular state’; 2) in 1992, 18.6 per cent of respondents in Qurghonteppa Province and 14.7 per cent in Dushanbe ‘supported the idea of establishing an Islamic republic in Tajikistan. However, this idea was almost fully rejected in Leninabad and Kulab oblasts, as well as in Gissar [Hisor] and Tursunzade.’

“The increase in support for an Islamic state in Dushanbe and Qurghonteppa over the national average shown in the above statistics also corresponds with the level of support for the IRP voiced by respondents, of 17.5 per cent in Qurghonteppa Province and 18.4 per cent in Dushanbe. The scepticism of the potential for an Islamic state in Tajikistan was summarised by Asliddin Sohibnazarov of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan: ‘It would be easier to build communism in America than to create an Islamic republic in Tajikistan.’”

Islamic Revival Party Regional Support Base

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “Since the late 1970s the network of ‘non-official ulama’ that would go on to form the IRP was active mainly in the mountainous areas of Qarotegin/Gharm and the lower Vakhsh Valley, with Qurghonteppa City as its original base. In late 1990 Niyazi described the IRP as having a rural support base and being ‘headed mostly by young unregistered spiritual teachers’. Tajikistan, however, was not an easy recruiting ground for an Islamist organisation, aside from the obvious restrictions of the Soviet era on independent political and religious activity. Dudoignon argues that the rural nature of Tajikistan made it difficult for Islamists to recruit, as their successes have usually been in urban areas. He goes on to note the history of ‘problematic relations’ between the IRP leadership and the ‘traditional religious elites’ in rural Tajikistan, especially those affiliated with the official Qoziyot who also had a following among Gharmi Tajiks. This may have hindered the IRP in its recruitment; however, the IRP did manage to create a politically significant support base. Its original support base had a significant number of teachers and students who were educated in the city, yet who had a rural background. Other sources point instead to unofficial mullahs recruiting young men as being more important. Nevertheless, the IRP developed a base that was heavily skewed towards one region. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

“The IRP had a significant presence in Mastchoh in northern Tajikistan, Khovaling in the northern Kulob region, in the Gharm/Qarotegin region and among the Gharmi/Qarotegini migrants who were sent to the Vakhsh Valley. The broad consensus, however, is that the IRP’s strongest support came from Gharmi Tajiks, at home in the Gharm region and especially among the Gharmi migrants in the Vakhsh Valley, leading the party to become a platform for the interests of Gharmis/Qaroteginis, with the majority of that community supporting the IRP. The authors cited above who point to a Gharmi regional agenda in the IRP generally, with some exceptions, do not provide details of how this pro-Gharmi agenda manifested during the latter half of 1991 and through late spring 1992. Since the IRP was not in any position of power until they received a share of the positions in the Government of National Reconciliation (GNR), there were few opportunities to use government structures to benefit Gharmi interests; however, the perception of the IRP as a ‘vehicle’ of Gharmi interests would have been sufficient to discourage most non-Gharmis from joining. The overwhelming dominance of Gharmis in the leadership and in the base of support would suffice to create this perception. If there was any doubt about the IRP leadership’s regional agenda, the summer 1992 cleansing of Kulobis from IRP third-in-command Nuri’s home collective farm would most likely have solidified people’s perceptions of the IRP as a Gharmi organisation.

“The simple explanation that Gharmis were more religious than the Kulobis—leading the former community to rally to the IRP—is rejected by Roy, but with a weak supporting argument. Niyazi, on the religiosity of the Gharmis, writes that ‘communal patriarchal relations and ties were strong, and age-old customs were held in high esteem. The local population was marked by a particular piety.’ Nuri’s views are far closer to Niyazi’s outside assessment, demonstrated clearly by his answer to the question of why an Islamic movement appeared ‘solely’ in the Vakhsh Valley. Nuri, as a clearly unabashedly patriotic Gharmi, mainly credits the Gharmi population’s religiosity with the group’s success in mobilising in the Vakhsh Valley: This is a good question. As a matter of fact, at the time when our organisation or movement was coming into being, one is amazed as to why it originated in, or why it was established in, that place. I think that the main reason is this, that 60 percent of the inhabitants of the Vakhsh Valley are composed of people from the Qarotegin and Vakhyo Valleys [that is, the former Gharm Province], and from ancient times, compared with people of the other areas of Movarounnahr [Central Asia], they more so fell in love with Islam, were involved with Islam, and established the revealed religion of Islam—and amongst them were many scholars of sharia studies. On the other hand, these people had a boundless/incomparable desire, striving and love for the religion of Islam—their children more so took to Islamic studies and education. And in this way they continued. Another reason is that these people, as a result of ability and hard work, had become very well-off and wealthy and sent their children to the city of Dushanbe and other Islamic cultural centres. As a result, these students advanced and became skilled. From Dushanbe, where a majority of the young students of the Vakhsh Valley studied Islamic science and education, they returned to their places of birth. Amongst them were very many enlightened and freedom-loving people.

“Others point instead to political and economic reasons for the Gharmi dominance in the IRP. An important event occurred around mid 1990 when the government introduced export restrictions and price controls on farm products—changes that hurt the farming communities of the Vakhsh Valley. After this, ‘young radical activists’ of the IRP (as well as of the DPT) began to ‘openly advocate’ for the resettled population of the Vakhsh and for the mountain populations—both of which are predominantly Gharmi—against the ‘technocrats of the planned economy’. Dudoignon argues that by late 1991 ‘[t]he Nahzat [IRP] changed quickly its social status during and after the November 1991 presidential elections, transforming itself from a mass organization of urban youth in [sic] a party of sufi notables with a strong basis in the Dushanbe-Kafirnihan region and in Qarategin [Gharm]’. Dudoignon does not say, however, whether this was a simple IRP strategy to gain more support in this community or if it was a reflection of the IRP leadership’s region of origin.

“Niyazi certainly is of the opinion that many religious leaders had a Gharmi regional agenda, even if it was borne of the noblest intentions: ‘the political struggle of Islamic nonconformists was not conducted to establish the rule of the clergy, but in the first instance for a wider representation of the mountain-dwellers in the structures of power and against the violence being done by the industry minded elite on traditional culture.’More cynical political motivations on the part of Gharmi government elites from outside the IRP are cited by authors such as Olimova, who argues that the Gharmi/Qarotegini ‘regional elites, having achieved economic clout, sought to change the balance of forces in their own interest and used the newly emerging opposition movements to this end’. Regional elites from the Pamirs and Gharm increasingly began to use the political parties and the Gorbachev reforms to make political gains as the government appointed mostly Pamiri and Gharmi reformists to the newly vacated positions. Soon, as argued by Olimova, ‘regional origin exerted a major influence on the choice of behavioural strategy of the new elites’, while support for or opposition to the ‘Soviet imperial centre’ was ‘determined by regional affiliation’. The strength of the IRP among Gharmis was matched by the dominance of Gharmis in the leadership of the IRP. For example, the three most powerful party leaders (Nuri, Himmatzoda and Usmon) were all Gharmi Tajiks. There is also the possibility that the IRP’s core from the very beginning was Gharmi. Nuri himself proudly described the important role played by Vakhsh Valley muhajirs from Qarotegin and Darvoz (that is, Gharm Province) in the initial formation of the network that would go on to be the basis for the IRP. As networks of solidarity in Tajikistan so often form along lines of blood relations, the likelihood that the early precursors to the IRP did the same is high. Indeed, the IRP was especially keen to use traditional organisational structures: in 1992, 12 members of the Ulama Council of the IRP belonged to one gashtak, and functionaries at lower levels were habitually heads of kinship entities in their respective territories. With many Gharmi elites in the IRP and the base of support being largely Gharmi, the party soon became a vehicle for the interests of Gharmis. The ideology of the IRP mixed with regional political issues, leading members from other regions to withdraw from the party.

Competition and Cooperation: Qozi Turajonzoda

In September 1992, the Islamic leader Qozi Turajonzoda said: “[O]ur hopes can come true when there is a veritable democratic, rule-of-law and, however strange one may find it, secular state. As [a] Muslim leader, I certainly dream of living in a state governed by the laws of Islam, but, if one is realistic, one should realize that our society is not yet ready for this. [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ]

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote: “The IRP did not and does not hold a monopoly in terms of Islamic leadership. Other leaders have been able to wield influence and attract supporters. The most prominent was and still is Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda. Turajonzoda was born Akbar Qaharov in 1954 near Vahdat (Kofarnihon) in the village of Turkobod, about 30 km from Dushanbe. Turajonzoda traces his prominent Sufi family lineage seven generations back to Samarkand. His grandfather, Sufi Abdukarim, was a Sufi leader exiled to Siberia in the 1930s, while his father, Ishon Turajon, was a Sufi ishon who possibly had as many as 1000 murids (committed followers). At age eighteen, Turajonzoda was sent to study at the Mir-i Arab madrasa in Bukhara. Afterwards he went on to study at the Islamic Institute in Tashkent before going to Jordan to study Islamic law at Amman University as one of a few officially approved students from the Soviet Union. After returning, he worked for the Department of International Relations of the Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of Central Asia and Kazakhstan (SADUM). He was appointed as the Qozikalon (the highest rank of Islamic judge/administrator in the Qoziyot) of Tajikistan in 1988 at the age of only thirty-four. In 1990 he took on the additional position as a deputy in the Supreme Soviet of Tajikistan. At this time the leaders of the officially endorsed Islamic bodies were supportive of the government as they were dependent on it for their careers. This was reinforced in September 1990 with a Qoziyot decree/treaty agreement with the imam khotibs (top imams) of local mosques forbidding participation in politics, with a specific prohibition against membership of any political party—likely a response to the recent appeal by the union-wide IRP for the ulama to become involved in politics.

“For a short period, Turajonzoda had been a student of Muhammadjon Hindustoni and had, in 1983 or 1984, met Sayid Abdullo Nuri, the eventual leader of the IRP. When Nuri was released from jail in 1988, Turajonzoda hired him as the editor for the official newspaper of the Qoziyot, Minbar-i Islom (‘Tribune of Islam’). Despite whatever relationship Turajonzoda may have had with Nuri, he was disinclined to endorse the IRP as it ‘advocated a different path to Muslim revival’ and was a threat to his power as Qozikalon as it was a political party that advertised itself as the ‘vehicle of revival’ rather than the Qoziyot. Kilavuz qualifies this competition:

A dispute emerged between the traditionalists and the IRP over the latter’s status as an Islamic party, which the traditionalists saw as contrary to Islam. They did not object to existing relations between state and religion, or approve of the direct involvement of religion in politics. Accordingly, they accused the IRP of disrespecting or betraying Sunni Hanafi tradition. The Qazi had good relations both with the IRP and the traditionalists, who were composed mostly of Naqshbandi and Qadiri Ishans. Although these groups were suspicious of each other, in September 1991 Turajonzoda was able to convince them to unite against the government. His intervention helped prevent a possible clash between the ‘official’ imams of the mosques, and the ‘unofficial’ mullahs and the political wing of Islam represented by the IRP. He was a figure who could be accepted by both sides, and who had relationships with all relevant groups.

“Initially, Turajonzoda maintained a distance from the IRP and the opposition parties and continued instead to work from within the government as a deputy and as the Qozikalon. In December 1990, Qahhor Mahkamov held an unprecedented conference with influential mullahs, where he said, in particular: [W]e treat religious sentiments and requests of the believers with great respect. Only during the past year—year and a half—in excess of 70 mosques and hundreds of meeting-houses were built, and an Islamic Institute was opened in the republic … In the nearest future we shall create a consultative group together with you and … subject to good will and mutual compromise, we shall be able to solve rather complicated issues in a humane and good-natured manner.

“The Qozikalon expressed appreciation of the government’s efforts, but at the same time put forward several demands, the implementation of which, according to him, ‘would be conducive to further strengthening of public confidence in the leadership of the republic’. They included: 1) proclaiming high days of Islam public holidays; 2) shifting the weekly day off to Friday; 3) introducing the Quranic method of cattle slaughter (halal); 4) exempting mosques and other holy places from taxation.

“In the meantime, the official Islamic clergy promised not to support the IRP. Turajonzoda made the following public announcement: We have stressed more than once that Islam is a party in its own … The emergence of various parties in any state that call themselves ‘Islamic society,’ ‘Islamic party,’ ‘Islamic renaissance’ and so on, has led to the weakening and dispersal of the Muslims. Taking this into consideration, the Qoziyot administration has made efforts to guarantee and preserve the Muslims’ unity.

“Those few imams who explicitly denounced the activities of the IRP in Tajikistan won a reprieve from the Muslim spiritual board. The turning point was when Turajonzoda’s proposals in the Supreme Soviet—regarding religious holidays, observance of Friday as a non-working day, halal regulations in abattoirs and land tax breaks for mosques—all failed. In late 1991, Turajonzoda and the IRP had a ‘rapprochement and then alliance’ as the Qozikalon announced his support for the opposition demands. As Mahkamov’s administration was in no hurry to cater to the aforementioned demands of the Qoziyot, Turajonzoda gradually abandoned his neutrality. As Turajonzoda wrote in 1995, ‘[T]here was a serious need to establish a political party for Muslims … The IRP through its official activities intended to play a role in the spiritual self-realisation and development of the nation and to defend the rights and demands of Muslims, who constitute the majority of the country’s population.’

“Turajonzoda had, from late 1991, a moderating influence on the IRP, as argued by Dudoignon. The rapprochement between the Qozikalon and the Islamists was not unexpected—they had essentially the same power base. Aziz Niyazi thus characterised the IRP: ‘These were mainly peasants and part of the town population from the Gharmi group of regions, or people who were originally from these regions who are now living in the Qurghonteppa oblast, Hissor Valley, Leninsky raion, and the city of Dushanbe.’ On the other hand, it was well known that ‘the Supreme Qozi in his day-to-day activities relies on fellow-regionalists254 from Gharm, which stirs resentment in other regions of Tajikistan’. While one may question Narzullo Dustov’s opinion that Turajonzoda ‘organically hated the people of Kulob’, there is ample evidence of a strained relationship between Turajonzoda and religious figures in Kulob and Leninobod, especially in early 1991 when the Qozikalon attempted to replace Kulob’s spiritual leader, Haydar Sharifzoda, with his own loyal appointee, Mullah Abdurrahim. Not only did Sharifzoda successfully repel this attack, he actually secured confirmation of his investiture directly from the SADUM, thus gaining autonomy from the Qoziyot. In the Leninobod oblast, the congregations intensely disliked Turajonzoda’s appointees, believing them (as well as their high-placed patron) to be ‘spoiled’ by years of study in Uzbekistan.

“By mid 1991, in many areas of central and southern Tajikistan, it had become difficult to distinguish between official and unofficial mullahs, the IRP functionaries and traditional strongmen. They had all coalesced into a somewhat obfuscated yet potent entity with a common background and agenda (Gharmi regionalism), ideology (Islam) and organisational principles (traditional consanguinal structures and gashtaks). Loosely called the ‘Islamic opposition’, it possessed tremendous organisational and financial resources, and was preparing to play a more active part in political struggle. Once again, it is imperative to reiterate that ‘the use of Islam by a political opposition, and indeed the mere emergence of an opposition, became possible only under conditions of relative democratisation, and then not so much in the Muslim provinces as at the centre’.

Islamic Revival Party in 2010s

In 2015, Bruce Pannier of Radio Free Europe wrote: “The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), has received some attention during the last few years due to a long series of mishaps, which the party's leadership claims is part of a government campaign to eliminate the party. It failed in elections in March 2015 to meet the threshold for parliamentary representation. The party challenged the official results of the polls, alleging fraud. [Source: Bruce Pannier, Radio Free Europe, August 22, 2015]

IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri is out of the country since he could face arrest on charges of illegally selling land that date back more than a decade. The party leadership met in Turkey in August 2015, the first time the IRPT leadership has held a meeting outside Tajikistan since the days of the country's civil war.

2015 Parliamentary Elections Spells Doom for Tajikistan’s Islamic Party

In parliamentary elections in Tajikistan in March, 2015, the ruling People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan won another overwhelming victory. Again there were also allegations the election was rigged. The most significant result was that the Islamic Renaissance Party failed to win a seat and took only 1.6 percent of the total vote.

Radio Free Europe reported: “Importantly for the future” the election “was a defeat for the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and the unofficial end of the power-sharing deal that was part of the Tajik Peace Accord of June 1997. And that raises questions about the future of Islam in politics not only in Tajikistan but in all the former Soviet republics that now make up Central Asia. [Source: Radio Free Europe, March 5, 2015 ==]

“That Islam will play a role in the politics of Central Asia is undeniable, and the 1997 peace agreement in Tajikistan was an experiment that proved to some extent that Islam could have a political role in a secular state. Under that agreement the United Tajik Opposition, an interesting mixture of the IRPT, and democratic and nationalist groups, received 30 percent of the positions in government at all levels, from local to ministerial. ==

“The IRPT became and remains the only Islamic party registered in all of Central Asia. The IRPT had two of the 63 seats in parliament prior to the March 1 elections, nowhere near enough to influence the country's politics, but at least the party was represented in parliament. And having two seats preserved the IRPT's hope that it could win more seats in future elections despite the many obstacles the party has faced and seem to suddenly face every time there are elections. Current IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri told me one week ago that he thought his party could win five seats in these latest elections.

“The IRPT is the second-largest party in Tajikistan, so Kabiri's prediction was plausible even knowing the deck might be stacked against him, so to speak. Now the IRPT has no place in government; and for the roughly 44,000 registered members of the party and the many thousands more who support the IRPT, many under 30 years old, this is going to be a problem. Analysts have warned for years that by driving the opposition, both secular and religious, underground, Central Asian governments were creating radicalized groups. The lack of any voice whatsoever for the IRPT in government, after 18 years, is likely to come back to haunt the Tajik government one day.” ==

Islamic Revival Party Banned, Given Deadline To Stop Activities

In August 2015, the Tajik Justice Ministry banned the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and gave the only officially registered Islamic party in the former Soviet Union 10 days to halt all activities. According to a statement issued by the ministry on August 28, the Islamic Renaissance Party cannot legally continue its activities because the Justice Ministry says the party does not have enough members to qualify as an officially registered party. The ministry said that all the party's branches in 58 cities and districts across Tajikistan have been closed. [Source: Radio Free Europe, August 28, 2015 ]

Radio Free Europe reported: “The statement adds that the IRPT would not be able to hold a scheduled party congress and that a temporary headquarters set up in a private home in Dushanbe was illegal. Party Chairman Muhiddin Kabiri, who has been outside Tajikistan since March, told Radio Free Europe on August 28 that the party's Supreme Political Council will discuss the situation in the nearest future and the results of that session will be made public.

“In comments to Radio Free Europe, the party's deputy chairman, Saidumar Husaini, described the Justice Ministry's statement as "more pressure on the party by the authorities." "That is a real threat to the IRPT's activities," Husaini said, adding that the move comes "despite the fact that political parties in the country can be banned only by the Supreme Court." The Justice Ministry's announcement came a day after IRPT leaders told journalists in Dushanbe that the party would continue its political activities despite obstacles imposed by Tajik authorities, including the forced closure and sealing-off of its offices in the capital on August 24.

“On August 27, Islamic Renaissance Party members and supporters were forced to relocate their planned press conference to a private residence in the capital after management at the Sheraton Dushanbe Hotel said they could not host the event, citing electricity problems. Once reporters were gathered at the impromptu headquarters, the party leadership demanded that the government allow the Islamic Renaissance Party to reopen its official Dushanbe office, which they claimed had been closed to prevent a party congress from being held on September 11. The congress was intended to elect new party leaders.

“The leadership called for the return of open political debate and suggested that Tajikistan's election system was not free or fair. Kabiri's colleagues have urged him not to return to Tajikistan from abroad, saying it was not safe and citing the mysterious assassination of another opposition leader, fugitive tycoon and opposition Group 24 founder Umarali Quvatov, in Istanbul in March. Some opponents of President Emomali Rahmon who live abroad have suggested that Quvatov's killing was orchestrated by Tajik authorities.

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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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