10/13/2007, 00.00
TAJIKISTAN

Three mosques demolished and others closed, the only synagogue also in danger

Authorities say they demolished the mosques because they were “unauthorised” and for “architectural reasons”. But the faithful speak of attempts to impede the “expansion of Islam” outside the strict control of the Council of Ulema. The only synagogue also in danger.

Dushanbe (AsiaNews/F18) – Three mosques demolished and others closed in Dushanbe. The faithful speak of attempts to impede the “expansion of Islam” outside the strict control of the Council of Ulema, but authorities say they demolished the mosques because they were “unauthorised” and for “architectural reasons”.  Hikmatullo Saifullozoda of the opposition party Islamic Revival (Irp) told Forum 18 that each of the three mosques demolished on 8 October could accommodate up to 100 worshippers and were generally full for Friday prayers. He said one of the mosques in the 102nd District was rebuilt, only to be pulled down a second time by the authorities on 17 September

Saidbek Mahmudolloyev, the assistant to the head of the government's Religious Affairs Department has admitted that buildings used regularly for Muslim prayers have been demolished, because they “weren't registered at the Ministry of Justice as mosques and they spoiled the architecture of the city”. Haji Nematullo Ahmadzod, the assistant to the imam at one of the demolished mosques said that a group from the mosque went to Vasif Rustamov, the head of the city administration, to complain, but he refused to receive anyone about the issue. The mosque was built in 1992 before the nations civil war with money collected from people who attended for prayers, and had been active since then.

Firuz Ilmosov, Rustamov’s deputy head, insists that the buildings were not mosques “Those places that were pulled down were used for religious purposes illegally”. Haji Nigmatullo Olimov, the deputy head of the Council of Ulems (theologians), insisted "those that were demolished were just one-room or small shabby buildings used for weddings, funerals and sometimes for prayer. The city authorities do not want people to be divided into small groups but attend larger mosques”. The Council has been insisting for some time, with government support, that all mosques be under their direct control.

 “The authorities – comments Saifullozoda – are afraid of the growing number of practicing Muslims and they use these methods to stop their expansion” and to get rid of “undesirable imams”.  He contests the Council of ulema authority (just another religious organisation) and reputes that the demolitions are indeed serious, because “they were carried out in the holy month of Ramadan”.  Irp parliamentarians protested the demolitions, even in TV, and now they are awaiting an “explanation” from the president and ultimate authorities.

The authorities have long sought to limit the number of mosques. Back in March Dushanbe city Prosecutor's Office announced a crackdown on what it called "illegal" mosques. Its representative Ilyos Ortukov said that 13 of the 148 unregistered mosques in Dushanbe would be demolished, another 28 would be allowed to work after registering with authorities and the rest would be closed down.  But these initiatives have sparked fear in the city’s other religious minorities.  In February 2006 part of the century old Dushanbe synagogue was demolished, ahead of the building of a new presidential palace.  Protests saved the city’s only Synagogue, but there are fears that demolition will begin again.

 

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