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DUSHANBE -- Prayer has been banned in the mosque at the headquarters in Dushanbe of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), in a move that could pave the way for its closure, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

Mavlon Mukhtorov, deputy head of the Tajik government's Committee for Religious Affairs, told RFE/RL on August 10 that the mosque was not registered, and political parties should not have mosques. The IRP, however, denies this and says the ban is intended to prevent any future growth of support for the party.

The Masjidi Nahzatiho Mosque at IRP headquarters has functioned unimpeded for 10 years as a cultural center. It can hold 2,000 worshippers.

Party deputy head Saidumar Husseini, who is a member of the lower house of parliament, said that he met with members of the Committee for Religious
Affairs and representatives of the Law Enforcement Directorate to discuss the issue, but failed to reach any agreement. He said the IRPT will not accept the committee's decision to ban prayers in the mosque.

Zubaidulloh Roziq, who is imam of the mosque and heads the party's Majma Ulema (Council of Islamic Scholars), said that on most days only employees at the party headquarters and guests of the center pray at the mosque.

But he added that on Fridays, more than 2,000 people come to the mosque. He said most of them are supporters of the party or simply live in the neighborhood. Party officials also said that when the party holds gatherings, or particularly on important religious holidays, many people attend prayers.

A representative or IRP said that at present this is the only mosque in Tajikistan that permits women to pray along with men.

Every Friday around 100 women and girls come to the mosque to attend the Friday prayers along with the men. The majority of the women say that they come to the mosque with their husbands or friends, some of whom are IRP members.

Political analyst and journalist Saimuddin Dustov says that while the decision of the Committee for Religious Affairs is entirely lawful, it could have unanticipated negative consequences by antagonizing practicing Muslims and encouraging them to express support for the IRP.

Tajik government officials began a general registration of mosques last year in line with controversial new legislation.

The new law transformed the former Directorate of Religious Affairs, which was part of the Ministry of Culture, into the Committee for Religious Affairs,
which reports directly to the president. To date, the committee has registered 3,300 small mosques for daily use, 324 bigger Friday mosques, and 27 large regional mosques.

The decision on whether to close the mosque at the IRP headquarters will be reached in discussions between the head of the party and representatives of the Committee for Religious Affairs.