Islam in Tajikistan
|Islam by country|
Sunni Islam is, by far, the most widely practiced religion in Tajikistan. Sunni Islam of the Hanafi school is the recognized religious tradition of Tajikistan since 2009. According to a 2009 U.S. State Department release, the population of Tajikistan is 98% Muslim, (approximately 95% Sunni and 3% Shia), with some Sufi orders.
Demographics and early history
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. For instance, the Samanid state became a staunch patron of Islamic architecture and spread the Islamo-Persian culture deep into the heart of Central Asia. Also, Ismail Samani, who is considered the father of the Tajik nation, promoted Muslim missionary efforts around the region. The population within Central Asia began firmly accepting Islam in significant numbers, notably in Taraz, now in modern-day Kazakhstan. During the Soviet era, efforts to secularize society were largely unsuccessful and the post-Soviet era has seen a marked increase in religious practice. The number of Muslims who fast during the holy month of Ramadan is high; up to 99% of Muslims in the countryside and 70% in the cities fasted during the latest month of Ramadan (2004). Most Shia Muslims, particularly the Ismaili reside in the remote Gorno-Badakhshan region as well as certain districts of the southern Khatlon region and in Dushanbe. Among other religions, the Russian Orthodox faith is practiced only by the Russians living therein although the Russian community shrank significantly in the early 1990s. Some other small Christian groups now enjoy relative freedom of worship. There also is a very tiny Jewish community.
The Sunni branch of Islam has a 1,200-year-old tradition among the sedentary population of Central Asia, including the Tajiks. A minority group, the Pamiris, are members of a much smaller denomination of Shia Islam, Nizari Ismailism, which first won adherents in Central Asia in the early tenth century. Despite persecution, Ismailism has survived in the remote Pamir Mountains and they are followers of the Aga Khan.
The traditional veil in Tajikistan worn before modern times was the faranji but during the Hujum, the Soviet Communists gave women civil rights equal to men, and prohibited the wearing of "oppressive clothing" like veils.
During the course of seven decades of political control, Soviet policy makers were unable to eradicate the Islamic tradition. 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 attack 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 population 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.
In the early 1960s, Nikita Khrushchev's 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.
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Identification with Islam as an integral part of life is shared by urban and rural, old and young, and educated and uneducated Tajiks. The role that the faith plays in the lives of individuals varies considerably, however. For some Tajiks, Islam is more important as an intrinsic part of their cultural heritage than as a religion in the usual sense, and a few Tajiks are not religious.
In any case, 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.
Islam continued 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. 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.
By late 1989, the Mikhail Gorbachev regime's increased tolerance of religion began to affect the practices of Islam and Russian Orthodoxy. 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.
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. Ironically, however, after 1997 powershare between current administration and the former opposition groups, Turajonzoda has been appointed as a Deputy Prime Minister of Tajikistan, and unequivocally supports Emomalii Rahmon's regime.
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. 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.
In October 2005, Tajikistan's Ministry of Education banned female students from wearing Islamic headscarves in secular schools. Wearing the hijab, or head scarf traditionally worn by Muslim women, and other religious symbols "is unacceptable in secular schools and violates the constitution and a new law on education," Education Minister Abdudjabor Rahmonov said. He expressed concern that pupils spent too much time in mosques at the expense of their education. "Many spend evenings in mosques and do not do their homework," Rahmonov said, adding that during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan many did not attend classes after Friday prayers.
More recently, according to an unconfirmed report, the Tajik government has closed hundreds of unregistered Mosques drawing locals to believe that the crackdown is actually against the religion of Islam. According to reports, some Mosques have been destroyed while others have been converted into beauty parlors. Some have speculated that the crackdown is a result of governmental concerns of Mosques being "unsafe," or that the Imams may not act "responsible."
Tajikistan marked 2009 as the year to commemorate the Sunni Muslim jurist Abu Hanifa, as the nation hosted an international symposium that drew scientific and religious leaders. The construction of one of the largest mosques in the world, funded by Qatar, was announced in October 2009. The mosque is planned to be built in Dushanbe and construction was finished by 2014. In 2010, Tajikistan hosted a session of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference with delegations from 56 members states gathering at Dushanbe.
The government has shut down Mosques and forbids foreign religious education. From the beginning of 2011 1,500 Mosques were shut down by the Tajik government, in addition to banning the hijab for children, banning the use of loudspeakers for the call of prayer, forbidding mosques from allowing women to enter, and monitoring Imams and students learning an Islamic education abroad, having sermons in the Mosque approved by the government and limiting the Mosque sermons to 15 minutes. Muslims experienced the most negative effects from the "Religion Law" enacted by the government of Tajikistan, curtailing sermons by Imams during weddings, making the "Cathedral mosques" the only legal place for sermons to be given by Imams with sermons not being allowed in five-fold mosques, the five-fold mosques are small mosques and serve a limited number of people while the medium and big mosques are categorized as Cathedral mosques, girls who wore the hijab have been expelled from schools and hijabs and beards are not permitted on passport photos. Mosques have been demolished and shut down by the Tajikistan government on the excuses that they were not registered and therefore not considered as mosques by the government. Tajikistan has targeted religious groups like Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, Christians, and Muslims who try to evade control by the government, synagogue, churches, and Mosques have been shut down and destroyed, only a certain amount of mosques are allowed to operate and the state must approve all "religious activity", in which younger than 18 year old children are not allowed to join in. Buildings for religious worship for Jehovah's Witnesses, Protestant Churches, the Jewish Synagogue, and Muslim mosques have been targeted, destroyed, and shut down and prayers are forbidden to take place in public halls, with severe restrictions placed on religion. Tajikistan forced religious communities to re-register with the government and shut Mosques and Churches down which refused re-registration in 2009. Churches, a synagogue, and mosques have been destroyed by the Tajikistan government. Government approval is required for Tajiks seeking to engage in religious studies in foreign countries and religious activities of Muslims in particular are subjected to controls by the Tajikistan government. State control has been implemented on Islamic madrasahs, Imams, and Mosques by Tajikistan. A list of sermon "topics" for Imams has been created by the Tajikistan government. Towns are only allowed to have a certain number of mosques and only religious buildings sanctioned by the government are allowed to host religious activities, schools have banned hijab, religious studies in private have been forbidden mosque religious services are not allowed to admit children and non registered mosques have been closed. Religious matters are banned for under 18 year old children, public buildings do not allow beards, schools ban hijabs, unregistered mosques are shut down, and sermons are subjected to government authority. Only if "provided the child expresses a desire to learn" can a family teach religion to their own children, while the Tajik government banned all non-family private education. Islam and Muslims have been subjected to controls by the Tajikistan government, the states decides what sermons the Imams give, the government discharges the salaries of Imams and there is only a single madrasah in Tajikistan.
Jehovah's Witnesses have been declared illegal in Tajikistan. Abundant Life Christian Centre, Ehyo Protestant Church, and Jehovah's witnesses have accused Tajikistan of lying about them not being declared illegal at a Warsaw OSCE conference for human rights.
Among increasingly religious Tajiks, Islamic-Arabic names have become more popular over Tajik names.
The Tajik government has used the word "prostitute" to label hijab wearing women and enforced shaving of beards, in addition to considering the outlawing of Arabic-Islamic names for children and making people use Tajik names even though Imam Ali (Emomali) is an Arabic name and is the first name of the Tajikistan President. Tajikistan President Rakhmon (Rahmon) has said that the Persian epic Shahnameh should be used as a source for names, with his proposed law hinting that Muslim names would be forbidden after his anti hijab and anti beard laws.
The black colored Islamic veil was attacked and criticized in public by Tajik President Emomali Rahmon.
The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan has been banned by the Tajik government and was labeled as a terrorist organization. However, an Islamic Renaissance Party member subsequently visited Iran by the Iranian government, which was turned into an diplomatic protest by Tajikistan.
Tajikistan's restrictions on Islam has resulted in a drastic decrease of big beards and hijabs. Tajikistan bans Salafism under the name "Wahhabi", which is applied to forms of Islam not permitted by the government. To promote a better secular state, 160 Islamic clothing stores were shuttered and 13,000 men were forcibly shaved by the Tajik police and Arabic names were banned by the parliament of Tajikistan as part of a secularist campaign by President Emomali Rajmon.
In Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, women wore veils which covered their entire face and body like the Paranja and faranji. The traditional veil in Central Asia worn before modern times was the faranji but it was banned by the Soviet Communists but the Tajikistan President Emomali has misleadingly tried to claim that veils were not part of Tajik culture.
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