bne IntelliNews – Tajikistan: authorities escalate war against Ismailis and other Muslims

The Tajikistan authorities forced the closure of two important religious institutions in the capital in the space of a week: a tariqa, or school, used by followers of the Ismaili Shia faith and a bookstore selling Islamic literature.

The campaign against the Ismailis, a splinter group from the Shia Muslim faith, is part of a wider pattern of repression of the Pamiris, a minority of around 230,000 people whose historic homeland in what is known as the Region Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Authority (GBAO), has been the subject of sustained security sweeps in recent months.

The Ismaili Council for Tariqa and Religious Education was registered in 2012 at the same time as the opening of the first Ismaili Center in Dushanbe. The location was used by followers of Ismaili Shiism for secular and religious education.

Sources at the center told Eurasianet that they have been under pressure from authorities since May to suspend their educational activities. The doors of the premises have been closed to the public for several weeks.

The Ismaili Center, which houses, among other things, a jamatkhana, a place where followers of the faith gather to pray, remains open, although its future also looks bleak in light of developments.

The state religious affairs committee has made no public statement about the closure of the Ismaili Council of Tariqa and Religious Education. Three years ago, however, the committee sent a letter to the organization expressing its discomfiture that the portrait of the Ismaili religious leader, the Agha Khan, hung above that of the president, Emomali Rahmon .

In the eyes of the government of Tajikistan, no figure holds more sacred status than Rahmon.

Official intolerance towards religion, however, extends beyond the Ismailis. The government has taken a hostile stance against Islamic education in general. Ten years ago, all madrasas in the country were closed on the pretext that the Ministry of Education was developing a sanctioned religious curriculum. The doors of the country’s six madrasas, however, never reopened.

Last week, authorities forced the closure of Dushanbe’s only bookstore specializing in religious literature. A spokesperson for the state religious committee said the closure was temporary, pending an inspection of the store’s catalog.

All of this happened despite the fact that around 95% of Tajikistan’s population describes themselves as Muslim.

The only remaining place to pursue studies in religious matters is the Islamic Institute of Dushanbe, which is near the now closed bookstore. Ninth graders must also complete a history of religion unit.

The repression of religion is even more extensive than that.

Children under the age of 18 are prohibited from visiting the mosque. People under the age of 35 are not allowed to apply to perform hajj in Makkah. Prayer is not permitted in government institutions and indeed members of the public are prohibited from entering government buildings while wearing a hijab or a cropped beard as a symbol of Islamic piety. There are no courses available for studying Arabic. Young people pursuing religious studies have been forcibly repatriated in recent years.

The only legally active imams are appointed by the religious affairs committee, from which they receive a salary. Their sermons are prepared in advance by the committee. Countless mosques have been closed. Small prayer rooms scattered across the country have often been dismantled.

All of this is a boon to recruiters from underground groups professing radical forms of Islam. The most notorious of these, the Islamic State, has made the Rahmon regime’s repression of blameless Muslims a central pillar of its recruitment rhetoric.

This article was originally published on Eurasianet here.

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