Tajik diplomats in Pakistan and Egypt say hundreds of Tajik students have "voluntarily" abandoned their studies at religious schools in those countries and returned home, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.
Speaking by phone from New Delhi on November 10, Tajikistan's Ambassador to Pakistan, Zubaydullo Zubaydov, said that to date 204 Tajik students who were studying at unofficial or illegal Pakistani religious schools have returned to Tajikistan voluntarily at the expense of their parents or relatives.
He added that up 100 more students at such colleges are waiting for money from their relatives or sponsors to pay their fare home.
More than 130 Tajik students similarly returned home from Egypt on November 8, Muhammadi Muzaffarov, Tajik Consul in Egypt, told RFE/RL.
Muzaffarov explained that Tajik Airlines planes that took Tajik pilgrims to Mecca for the hajj stopped on the return journey in Egypt to pick up the students.
Muzaffarov told RFE/RL the students returned home from Egypt of their own volition.
But at Dushanbe airport, a man who gave his name as Salmon, and who was waiting for his grandson to return from Egypt, said the Tajik authorities pressured them to persuade their children to return home. Salmon added that his grandson was a student at one of the schools of the prestigious Al-Azhar Islamic University, but had to abandon his studies.
Tajik Education Ministry official Rajabali Sangov said that the decision to return home is wise, because students at illegal and semi-official madrasahs studied only the Koran. He stressed that diplomas from such schools are not recognized in Tajikistan.
The head of Tajikistan's Islamic University, Umarali Nazarov, told RFE/RL that they will try to enable returning students to continue their education in his university or other religious schools.
Sayidumar Husayni, deputy chairman of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan who is also a member of the Majlisi Namoyandagon (the lower parliament chamber), told RFE/RL that recently appointed Tajik Mufti Sayidmukarram Abduqodirzoda is himself a graduate of an Islamic school and university in Pakistan.
A woman called Ruqiya told RFE/RL that some women and girls leave Tajikistan to study abroad because Tajik schools and universities do not allow women who wear the hijab to attend lectures.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon in August urged parents to recall their children from foreign madrasahs, saying otherwise they risk falling under the influence of foreign radical groups. For that reason, Rahmon argued, it is better that such students return to Tajikistan and continue their studies there.