FaithWorld

Tajikistan moves to ban adolescents from mosques

(A Tajik boy in a mosque during Friday prayers in Dushanbe October 12, 2001/Shamil Zhumatov)

 

Tajikistan has taken the first step toward banning children and adolescents from worshipping in mosques and churches, drawing criticism from Muslim leaders who oppose the Central Asian state’s crackdown on religious freedom. The lower house of parliament in the impoverished ex-Soviet republic this week passed a “parental responsibility” bill that would make it illegal to allow children to be part of a religious institution not officially sanctioned by the state.

Authorities say the measures are necessary to prevent the spread of religious fundamentalism in the volatile republic, the poorest of the 15 former Soviet republics, where government troops have been fighting insurgents in the mountainous east. Muslim leaders said the law, the brainchild of long-serving President Imomali Rakhmon, would only increase discontent among the majority Muslim population of a nation that fought a civil war in the 1990s in which tens of thousands were killed.

“It’s a black day for Muslims. Even in Soviet times, such punitive measures and religious persecution did not exist,” said prominent Muslim theologist Akbar Turadzhonzoda. “If the state doesn’t want to, the people will defend their faith themselves.”

Tajikistan, which shares a 1,340 km (840 mile) border with Afghanistan, has accused religious groups of stoking unrest. Rakhmon last year called home students from religious schools abroad and criticised a growing trend for Islamic dress.

Tajik leader wants children brought home from Muslim religious schools abroad

madrasaThe president of mostly Muslim Tajikistan has urged parents to withdraw their children from religious schools abroad, an appeal reflecting fears of radical Islam gaining ground in the Central Asian nation. President Imomali Rakhmon, in televised remarks to textile factory workers in a town near the border with Afghanistan, said he was concerned Tajik children attending such schools could return home as “terrorists”. (Photo: Koran students in Pakistani madrasa in Peshawar, September 11, 2006/Ali Imam)

“All parents who have sent their children to be educated at religious schools abroad — I would like to ask and urge you to bring them back to their homeland, because most of these schools are not religious,” Rakhmon said on Tuesday.  “Your children will become extremists, terrorists, and will turn into enemies and traitors of the Tajik nation.”

Most Tajiks cannot afford it, but sending a child to study in a nation such as Saudi Arabia is a source of prestige, and returning students are often granted a great deal of respect. Analysts say deepening economic hardship and social problems are pushing Tajiks toward radical Islam, threatening stability in the otherwise secular nation of seven million.