02/07/2018, 18.27
TAJIKISTAN
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Two thousand mosques converted into tearooms and cultural centres

The mosques had not been authorised by the authorities. The latter also write imams’ sermons, and require the former to renew their permits on a regular basis. The government is trying to fight foreign influence and fundamentalism, but for one expert, it is running the risk of favouring extremism.

Dushanbe (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Tajikistan’s Committee for Religious Affairs (CRA) last year converted what it claimed to be 2,000 illegal mosques into tearooms, barber shops, cultural centres, medical clinics, and kindergartens.

“We gave the owners of the mosques time to file [registration] documents, but they didn’t do it, so the sites were either reclaimed by the government or repurposed into social facilities,” said CRA chief Husein Shokirov at a conference on Monday.

According to the Committee, there are 3,900 mosques operating with proper permits in Tajikistan, including 370 so-called “cathedral mosques” of significant size.

Every year, hundreds of unregistered Islamic places of worship are forced to close. Last month alone, another 100 mosques were closed in the north of the country.

Under Tajik law, whilst the responsibility for building mosques lies with the public, ultimate control over the premises and what happens inside them is assumed by the government.

Imams are required to regularly renew paperwork to perform their duties, and sermons are written on their behalf by the authorities. The country’s security services have also set up video surveillance within and around mosques.

Clerics who decline to cooperate with the government are invariably ousted. Since 2014, imams receive civil servant salaries, about 800 som (US$ 90) a month. As of last month, they also have to declare all their sources of income.

In November, a law came into effect banning people from serving as imams if they were trained abroad. This is a very restrictive step because the country has only one Islamic institute.

About 90 per cent of the country’s 8.3 million population are Muslim, mostly following the moderate Hanafi school.

Religious life in the former Soviet Republic has come under closer supervision after many Tajiks joined Islamist groups in Syria and Iraq.

Wearing the Islamic veil has been banned in schools, and minors cannot attend mosques. Several students attending foreign Islamic schools have also been forced to come home.

Government religious repression has to be understood against the background of the country’s civil war in the 1990s in which an Islamic party played a major role.

However, the campaign against Islamic extremism in the country could turn against the authorities and produce the opposite effect, this according to Paul Globe, a specialist on ethnic and religious questions who writes for the Jamestown Foundation.

Many imams and ordinary Muslims could be driven underground, where they are more likely to be exposed to jihadi infiltrations from Afghanistan, home to many Afghan Islamists who are ethnic Tajiks.

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