Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Tajikistan Brings Home Students from Medrassahs Abroad, But Analysts Doubt This Alone Will Stop Islamist Threat

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 10 – Dushanbe officials say that over the last year, they have brought home all but 400 of the roughly 2500 Tajiks who had been studying in Islamic universities and medrassahs abroad, but analysts doubt that this measure by itself will prevent the continuing spread of Islamist ideas and organizations in that Central Asian republic.

            Abdurakhim Kholikov, chairman of Tajikistan’s Committee on Religious Affairs, said yesterday that 2080 Tajiks “who had been studying in foreign medrassahs illegally had been returned to their motherland” but some 400 remain abroad despite Dushanbe’s directive that they come home (www.avesta.tj/sociaty/10745-v-tadzhikistane-razrabotan-mehanizm-otpravki-studentov-v-zarubezhnye-medrese.html).

            The official added that “a mechanism for sending those who want to study at religious academic institutions abroad has been worked out by [Dushanbe],” and some 300 people have applied for approval. Are present, Kholikov continued, their applications are “at the stage of consideration.”

            The return of Tajiks studying abroad – and some estimates have put their number as high as 6,000 – followed Tajikistan President Emomali Rakhmon’s appeal to parents in August 2010 that they not send their students to study religion abroad lest “young citizens of the republic become extremists or terrorists.”

            Of those who have returned to far, the Committee on Religious Affairs said, 1219 did so because of this appeal, and of the 400 remaining abroad, its officials added, most had gone abroad entirely legally. Many of those who had been abroad are now studying at Tajikistan’s Islamic Institute (islamsng.com/tjk/news/3817).

(At the same press conference, Kholikov said his committee had tested 3366 imam-khatybs, of whom 106 failed to get official approval to continue to work in the country’s 58 officially registered religious communities.)
            But despite these and other Tajik government efforts to rein in Islam and Islamist movements, experts there say that the threat of Islamism and even “Talibanization” will grow there unless the government adopts a more enlightened policy, on the allows for dialogue rather than on repression.

In a post yesterday on the blog of independent Tajik historian Kamol Abdullayev, Galim Faskhudinov of Dushanbe surveys the views of various experts about trends in Islam in Tajikistan (kamolkhon.com/,  January 9).

            Abdullayaev told Faskhudinov that “the Islamization of society as an alternative to the atheism imposed during the period of the Soviet Union is proceeding.”  Moreover, he adds, this trend is now “not limited to the traditionally religious rural districts but step by step is affecting the more secular urban population.”

            Another scholar, orientalist Ilkhom Nadziyev, adds that “the level of trust among the population of Tajikistan to the power structures, as research shows, is low.  Many of the residents of the country consider that religious leaders are less supported by corruption.”  As a result, the latter enjoy more trust.

            Tokhir Sattorov, a Tajik political scientist, adds that “the powers that be at first tried to respond to the religious feelings of the population but then they stopped and turned back. The impression has been created that they do not have the [necessary] experience] or even that they are worried by their own unexpected moves earlier.”

            The expert community Faskhudinov surveyed “do not exclude the growth of Islamic radicalism in Tajikistan as a result of outside efforts.  Farrukh Umarov, a specialist on Islam notes that one of the most powerful movements in Islam seeks to unite all Muslims into a single umma, a desire that inevitably clashes with “national cultures.”

            The Islamists, Abdullayev points out, have already issued calls in Tajikistan to drop national names and secular dress, calls that are often seen as moves to “Talibanization.”  That trend “begins when they divide ‘good’ Muslims from ‘bad and unfaithful’ ones and insist on imposing a strict moral [Islamic] code on society.”

            Repressive measures do little good, Abdullayev insists, and he calls for dialogue first among Muslims and then between them and the state. Such conversations, he suggests, will support liberal trends and the development of civil Islam which will be directed at the strengthening of the state and Muslim society” at one and the same time.

            And Abdullayev concludes by pointing out that “the radicalization of Islam often creates problems far from religion, including the growth of authoritarianism, corruption, and economic difficulties.”  If those are not addressed, he says, then “even the complete defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan will not stop the threat of ‘Talibanization’” in Central Asia.

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