TAJIKISTAN: "Too many mosques" and compulsory "stage music"?
Following a speech by President Emomali Rakhmonov stating that three suspected Tajik terrorists have been held by the USA in Guantanamo Bay, the operation of a medressah (Islamic educational institute) in northern Tajikistan is being prevented, 152 mosques were closed down, loudspeakers removed from many and 20 per cent of Imams removed from office, Forum 18 News Service has learned. State officials claimed that there were too many mosques. There have also been claims that the authorities compel written confirmation from young couples that they will marry in the "European manner", with music and dancing. This claim has been denied by the local official dealing with religious affairs.
The authorities closed down the Isfara district medressah last July. In the same month Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov stated in a speech that three suspected terrorists held by the United States at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base came from the Isfara area, and expressed concern about the possible appearance of civil strife in northern Sogdi region motivated by radical Islam .
Control over Muslim religious life in Isfara district was imposed after the president's speech. According to Rakhmonov, at least 33 of Isfara district's 152 mosques were closed down. To justify this, state officials explained that the area had too many mosques, and that some had not been properly registered. The authorities also ordered the removal of over one fifth of the district's imams, who were accused of political activity.
Isfara district is an exceptional area in northern Tajikistan since, as a whole, the population is more devout than in other districts in Sogdi region. Thus, in the Tajik parliamentary elections in 2000, the Islamic Renaissance Party won a large majority in and around Isfara district. In one village, Chorku, the same party gained 93 per cent of the vote.
Although the mosques which were closed are functioning again, said Abdumalakov, the authorities continue to prevent the operation of the medressah. In his view, this is not the only instance in which the authorities are exerting pressure on believers. Approximately a year ago loudspeakers through which the faithful are called to prayer were removed from every mosque in the district apart from the central one, he said. He also maintains that the authorities compel written confirmation from young couples that they will marry in the 'European manner', with music and dancing. "According to the canons of Islam, stage music is unacceptable. But the authorities literally force people to incorporate stage music into their wedding celebrations," said Abdumalakov.
"All the documents necessary for the registration of Isfara medressah have now been collated," Dzhamuluddin Rakhmonov, the official dealing with religious affairs in Isfara district, told Forum 18 on 29 July. According to Rakhmonov, the documents would soon be sent to the Tajik capital Dushanbe and then, after they had been scrutinised by the Council for Religious Affairs attached to the Tajik government, the medressah would be able to begin functioning. Rakhmonov also claimed that loudspeakers had been removed from only a few mosques. "This was done for the convenience of believers. Calls to prayer were being sounded at different times from different mosques, with a time difference of several minutes. A Muslim is supposed to drop everything when he hears the call to prayer. It turned out that Muslims hardly had any time for their personal affairs due to this lack of co-ordination in the timing of the calls to prayer." Rakhmonov also categorically denied that the authorities interfered in wedding celebrations. "That's nonsense. I have personally attended Muslim weddings where there was no music," he said.
"The repercussions of President Rakhmonov's speech last year continue to be felt to this day," Negmatullo Mirsaidov, editor-in-chief of Tajikistan's Varorud Information Agency commented to Forum 18 in Khudzhand on 30 July. "In Kanabadam district [30km north of Isfara], for example, ten mosques remain closed."
29 July 2003
A Baptist has been fined five times the minimum wage (57 Norwegian Kroner, 8 Euros or 8 US Dollars) for "talking to passers-by about God", and threatened with property confiscation if he does not pay the fine, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The fine has been imposed even though Tajikistan's 1994 law "On Religion and Religious Organisations" does not prohibit either religious gatherings in private homes or street evangelisation.
23 May 2003
Media interest in the case of two Jehovah's Witnesses fined for leading a religious meeting in Tursun-Zade raided by the police has provoked serious concern among the local authorities, Forum 18 News Service has learned. They had hoped the case against them – first reported by Forum 18 on 28 April and picked up by a local television station - would go unremarked by the outside world. "We hope the authorities will not take it out on us because our case has unexpectedly received such wide publicity," one of the two, Sukhrob Maksudov, told Forum 18. The Jehovah's Witnesses expect the Supreme Court to hear their appeal against the sentences in about a month's time.
1 May 2003
Religious leaders know nothing about the amendments to Tajikistan's law on religion which officials expect to be adopted in the second half of the year. "We have only learnt about the proposed changes to the law from you," Said Negmatov of the Islamic Centre told Forum 18 News Service. "My main worry is that the draft law is being prepared behind the scenes without public discussion," Baptist pastor Aleksei Tsirulev declared. Said Akhmedov, chairman of the government's Committee for Religious Affairs, told Forum 18 that under the new law, individual religious communities will need to present a list of 100 members to get registration. While Muslim, Russian Orthodox and Jehovah's Witness representatives said this would not be difficult for them, Tsirulev was concerned, warning that "this will mean that in many towns and villages our fellow believers will be deprived of the opportunity to observe religious rituals".