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QURGHONTEPPA, Tajikistan -- Local authorities in the Qubodiyon district of Tajikistan's southern Khatlon Province have detained two groups of adherents of the banned Salafi strain of Islam, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

Qubodiyon district head Abdulmumin Ulfatshoev told RFE/RL that the leaders of the two groups organized classes on Islam for some 60 local children and planned to send them abroad illegally to study.

The local authorities in Qubodiyon said earlier that they had averted 22 crimes related to extremism last year, and that at least 40 followers of extremist groups were under surveillance by local power structures.

Local expert Muhammadiqbol Imomiddin told RFE/RL that the teaching of Islam in private homes is not as dangerous as the local authorities make out. He said the authorities come out with such accusations in order to instill fear in the hearts of the local population and discourage them from learning about Islam.

At the same time, Imomiddin underscored that because local imams do not know the laws related to religious affairs, they get into trouble, for example by not formally registering.

Anvar Nazriev, the head of the department for religious affairs in Qubodiyon, said that only a limited number of local imams have a license to teach Islam and the Arabic alphabet to local children. Nazriev added that children who want to study Islam in depth could be sent to official madrasahs in the towns of Qurghonteppa, Kulob, and Khovaling.

Local authorities currently prohibit sending children to study at religious schools abroad. Ulfatshoev said some people nonetheless sent their children to foreign madrasahs and now do not know how to bring them home.

After President Emomali Rahmon decreed last summer that all Tajik students studying at foreign madrasahs should return home, more than 530 students have returned to Khatlon Province alone.

Tajikistan keeps a tight rein on all forms of religion, and has banned at least two religious groups that are not of the Hanafi branch of Sunni Islam -- the Salafi and Jamoai Tabligh movements.

Salafism is a Sunni Islamic movement that takes the first practitioners of Islam as exemplary models. Salafis do not recognize other branches of Islam. It was banned in Tajikistan in January 2009.
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