Thursday, March 24, 2016

Mass Arrest of Imams Trained Abroad in Tajikistan Likely to Backfire

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 24 – The Tajik militia have arrested approximately 20 imams in the northern portion of Tajikistan for administrative violations and detained them for 15 days; but their lawyers expect that the authorities will fabricate cases of extremism against them during that time and bring more serious charges against them.

            Up to now, the official Tajik media have not reported on these arrests. They have been the subject of a report only by the independent Payom news agency ( whose coverage has been summarized by the Russian-language Ansar portal (

            Most of those arrested, the Payom agency says, have condemned the Islamist opposition in Tajikistan and have urged their parishioners not to take part in politics; but the 20 share one thing in common: all of them received their theological educations abroad, mostly in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

            That makes them suspect in the eyes of Dushanbe which has been carrying out the most thorough-going effort of any post-Soviet state to identify and exclude graduates of foreign medrassahs and Islamic universities. (On this campaign and its limitations, see

            This wave of arrests reflects Dushanbe’s nervousness about the spread of Islamist values from Afghanistan into Tajikistan, but there are three reasons to think that instead of restricting the influence of Islamist radicalism there, this action will have exactly the opposite effect and allow the radicals to gain ground:

·         First, the imams who have been arrested are likely to be replaced by far less qualified people who will be far less able to oppose the appeals of Islamists coming into Tajikistan from abroad.

·         Second, many Tajiks are likely to see this wave of arrests as evidence of the anti-Islamic nature of the Tajik state and thus be more willing to listen to the radicals.

·         And third, Dushanbe’s assumption that it can control Muslims by controlling the mosques is likely to be shown as unwarranted. Many Tajiks will now go to underground mosques that the state doesn’t control and where the messages they will receive are far more radical than any these 20 have given.

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