Friday, March 13, 2015

Islamization of Tajik Society has Domestic Roots, Experts Say

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March13 – Many are now concerned about the possible spread of Islamist radicalism from Afghanistan into neighboring Tajikistan, but the roots of the Islamization of that Central Asian country are to be found not abroad but in “the so-called ‘secular fundamentalism’” of the current regime in Dushanbe.


            That is the judgment of experts Parviz Ibodov, an observer for, surveyed and a warning to those who are focusing only on the external threats to his rule and his secularist approach to ruling what remains perhaps the most Islamic country in what was Soviet Central Asia (


                The Tajikistan constitution written under Western influence specified that that the government promotes secular values, but there has been “an intensification of Islamization” there over the last two decades, represented by dramatically increased mosque attendance, the wearing of beards and burqas, and the rise of underground mosques led by mullahs trained abroad.


            Islamization, Ibodov says, is proceeding most rapidly in the Sogda and Hatlon oblasts, in the capital city of Dushanbe, and in districts closest to the capital. Elsewhere, the shift to Islamist practice and values has been much less marked.


            Among the factors behind this development, he continues, is “the low authority” of officially recognized mullahs who often have little training, social tensions, high levels of poverty, and widespread corruption in the government. Islamist radicals win support by presenting themselves as “a source of truth and justice” and as opponents of all this.


            But the government itself has made the situation worse by its clumsy approach to the situation, adopting “ineffective measures which are extremely unpopular among believers” and which are often unenforceable or unenforced. Among these was the decision to fine those who violate rules about studying abroad and the demand that they return home.


Many ignored the law, and those that did return were often angry and more inclined to oppose the government than they might otherwise have been. And as various specialists on Tajikistan have pointed out, Ibodov continues, “the worse the life of Tajikistanis becomes, the more rapid Islamization occurs” because people see the Islamists as a good alternative.


Not only are stores selling burqas and hijabs doing a brisk business, he says, but there is an even stronger piece of evidence that young people are turning away from the secular state toward the Islamists. Young people, influenced by the Islamists’ insistence that “nation” has no meaning in Islam, are no longer celebrating the Novruz new year’s holiday.



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