TAJIKISTAN: New moves against Muslims in north
Local schoolgirls who refuse to attend lessons without a hijab (Islamic headscarf) risk being denied their school-leavers' certificates (as happened to at least 23 last summer), while four imams were removed from local mosques in late December on government orders, human rights activist Islom Pokosov complained to Forum 18 News Service in Khujand in northern Tajikistan. He said policy towards Muslims in his region had grown harsher in the past six months. Local religious affairs official Abduhakim Sharipov admitted the denial of school-leaver's certificates, but insisted to Forum 18 that children had to abide by school uniform regulations. He said the imams had been sacked for teaching in mosques without a licence from the Muslim Spiritual Administration after the Religious Affairs Committee had discovered these "abuses of authority" during check-ups of the region's mosques. Officially, religious communities are separate from the state, so it remains unclear on what basis the Committee conducted the verification and ordered the imams' removal.
Pokosov told Forum 18 that at least 23 Muslim schoolgirls in Khujand were unable to receive their school-leavers' certificates last summer because they refused to attend lessons without a hijab and he fears the same could happen to others this year. School directors have refused to allow schoolgirls to attend lessons wearing the hijab, saying this headgear conflicts with a decree from the Education Ministry last autumn introducing a standard school uniform, although the ban seems already to have been enforced before the decree was issued.
Pokosov also reported that the four imam-hatybs were sacked because they had taught at theological colleges in Saudi Arabia.
In addition, the government's Religious Affairs Committee last autumn issued an unwritten order to imam-hatybs banning school children from attending mosques during school hours. Many imams, fearing retribution, have erred on side of caution and have banned school children entirely from their mosques (see F18News 31 October 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=679).
Abduhakim Sharipov, head of the Sogd regional administration's department for socio-cultural issues and links with public and political organisations, admitted that some schoolgirls had failed to receive their school-leavers' certificate last summer because they had refused to attend lessons without a hijab. "I don't know exactly how many of these students there have been, but it's true that such cases have occurred," he told Forum 18 on 28 February. "There is a standard school uniform and believing parents of schoolgirls should take this into account." At the same time he said he believes school directors should demonstrate "flexibility" and deal with each such case on an individual basis, though he failed to explain what this flexibility should entail.
Sharipov also admitted that four imams who had taught in Saudi Arabia had been sacked from their mosques, but insisted they were dismissed not because they had taught in Saudi Arabia, but because they were preaching Islam without a licence from the Spiritual Administration. "This was established during a check on the activity of mosques in the Sogd region carried out by the Tajik government's Religious Affairs Committee," he told Forum 18. "The Committee wrote a letter about the abuses of authority that had been discovered to Tajikistan's Council of Ulems [scholarly theologians] and the Council in its turn resolved to remove the imams from their posts."
Tajikistan's Constitution and Article 5 of the Religion Law both proclaim that religion is separate from the state, making it hard to see on what legal basis the government's Religious Affairs Committee conducted inspections of mosque activity or wrote "advisory" letters to the Council of Ulems.
However, Article 5 of the Religion Law does require that "people who teach religious beliefs must have permission from the appropriate spiritual administration". However, in 1994 the Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Tajikistan was disbanded because the leaders of this agency had taken an active role in the civil war on the side of the opposition. The government later handed the Administration's former powers to the Council of Ulems, though the Council in practice does the government's bidding (see F18News 16 February 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=253).
"The Council of Ulems, or theologians, is a purely consultative body and its decisions do not hold any juridical force for other mosques," Ibadulo Kalonzade, imam-hatyb of Khujand's Nur mosque, told Forum 18 in the town on 28 February. He pointed out that similar agencies exist in many Muslim countries. "Essentially, the Council simply presents the view of leading theologians on a social or political issue. Were the Council able to assert its independence from the authorities, then it could become the real defender of believers' rights."
For more background see Forum 18's Tajikistan religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=190
A printer-friendly map of Tajikistan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=tajiki
22 February 2006
Between 7 and 20 February, the city authorities demolished the ritual bathhouse, classroom and kosher butchery of the synagogue in Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe. The only functioning synagogue in Tajikistan, it was built by local Jews a century ago. When a congregation member filmed the destruction officials threatened to break his video-camera, a local resident told Forum 18 News Service. The demolition of the synagogue itself – part of city redevelopment plans – is due to be completed in June, though some fear it could happen sooner. "It is a lie to say that the Dushanbe Jews paid for construction of the synagogue," Shamsuddin Nuriddinov of the city's Religious Affairs Department insisted to Forum 18. "So, if the Jews want to have a synagogue, let them pay for it out of their own funds." The Jewish community – mainly made up of Bukharan Jews – is mostly elderly and poor and cannot afford to build a new synagogue.
17 February 2006
The recent murder of an ethnic Kyrgyz convert to Christianity, Saktinbai Usmanov, was the culmination of a long series of intolerant incidents, Forum 18 News Service has found. Usmanov was the only Christian in his village. The intolerance was encouraged by the village Mullah, Nurlan Asangojaev, although most of the attackers were themselves drunk, which is forbidden in Islam. Asangojaev arranged for Usmanov to be banned from community events after his conversion, which is very painful for the traditionally community-centred Kyrgyz. He has also barred Usmanov from being buried in the village cemetery. Mullah Asangojaev has since Usmanov's murder told Forum 18 and others that "I can't offer any convincing proof, but I am sure that Saktinbai was killed by Protestants because he wanted to return to Islam." This is strongly denied by Saktinbai Usmanov's son, Protestant Pastor Ruslan Usmanov, who told Forum 18 that this is a "monstrous slander." There are numerous incidents of intolerance, including official hostility, towards Christian converts from Muslim backgrounds throughout Central Asia, Forum 18 has found.
31 October 2005
Tajikistan has banned female schoolchildren from wearing the hijab headscarf and, in a secret unwritten instruction, barred children from visiting mosques in school hours, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Some imams in the capital Dushanbe are, to Forum 18's knowledge, interpreting this as meaning that no children should be allowed into mosques at any time. Education Minister Abdudjabor Rahmonov has claimed that wearing the hijab "is unacceptable in secular schools and violates the constitution and a new law on education," even though the Tajik constitution does not bar wearing the hijab. Rahmonov also claimed that many pupils "spend evenings in mosques and do not do their homework." No-one at the Education Ministry or the state Religious Affairs Committee was prepared to discuss the bans, but one official told Forum 18 that the headscarf ban had not been decided by the Religious Affairs Committee, saying that "this decision was evidently taken right at the top."