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Tajik Women, Young People Appear To Be Embracing Islam

A young Tajik woman in a hejabA young Tajik woman in a hejab
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A young Tajik woman in a hejab
A young Tajik woman in a hejab
By Farangis Najibullah
The parents of 7-year-old Maryam are sending her to a school run by the Iranian Embassy in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.

She attends the Iranian school because, like many other Tajik girls who wear Islamic head scarves, Maryam wasn't allowed to enter her Tajik school when it opened last week.

"I went to school on September 1, but [the teachers] didn't let me in," she says. "They told me to remove my head scarf. I didn't go to school anymore."

Tajikistan's Education Ministry outlawed the hijab in schools and universities last year and also demands that its students wear special uniforms. It's all part of the Tajik authorities' wider efforts to restrict the growing influence of Islam in society.

Education Minister Abdujabbor Rahmonov has personally gone to universities and schools to check whether female students are complying with the ban.

Many girls have agreed to remove their head scarves while at school, while a few of them actually left school. At least one student, Davlatmoh Ismoilova, sued the ministry for violating her rights.

She eventually lost the case.

On The Increase

Despite efforts by the authorities to hinder women who follow Islamic customs, the number of women wearing hijabs in Tajikistan has increased. At the same time, a growing number of young people attend prayers in mosques and most young people now fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

Prominent cleric Mahmudjon Turajonzoda told RFE/RL that the majority of people who attend prayers at his mosque in Dushanbe's suburban Vahdat district are young men and boys, "while there are not too many people from the older generation among them."

An unregistered mosque in Dushanbe razed by the authorities in July 2007.

Last year, Dushanbe officials made media headlines by bulldozing two "unregistered" mosques and closing down many more, while changing some of them into police stations, hair salons, and even public baths.

Hundreds of mosques all over the country were given warnings to register with the state or risk the same fate. Many imams have complained of the exceedingly complicated procedure for mosque registration, which they say involves unnecessary paperwork.

At the same time, police have begun raiding music shops and kiosks to confiscate CDs, DVDs, and tapes that they claim promote extremism, terrorism, or prostitution.

Officials said they have seized more than 13,000 such items in their raids. Vendors said they mostly confiscate religious-oriented disks.

Stricter Adherence

But government pressure has done little to prevent the growth in a stricter adherence to Islam in Tajik society. More parents are sending their children to mullahs to learn the basics of Islam, and a growing number of girls are wearing the hijab.

Some of the girls say peer pressure led them to swap their European-style outfits for more conservative clothes, complete with head scarves.

But Gulchehra, a hairdresser in her 20s, said she made her choice after reading Islamic literature and booklets that are abundant in Dushanbe markets.

"My mother-in-law told me, 'You're still very young. Why do you wear a head scarf?' She is a modern woman. She was a communist. It was difficult for her to accept my head scarf, but she is now used to it," Gulchehra says. "At work, when clients see me wearing the hijab, they don't want me to cut their hair. Perhaps they are afraid that I'd ruin their hairstyle. The hijab really affects my work."

Like Gulchehra's mother-in-law and clients, not everyone in Tajikistan is happy with what some call the "Islamization of society." Once it was a country in which female students exceeded the number of men at universities, and women still enjoy government-backed equal rights to work, study, and participate in politics.

'Very Religious Nowadays'

Rano, of Dushanbe, said she likes wearing European-style clothes and going to parties, but at some gatherings she realizes she is the only one not wearing a head scarf.

"It wasn't like this before," Rano complains. "People have become much more conservative and very religious nowadays."

Rano sees "foreign propaganda and the trips by Tajiks to Iran and Arab countries" as a reason behind the rising interest in Islam.

Farrukh Umarov, a specialist on Islam at the Center for Strategic Studies in Dushanbe, tells RFE/RL that "it is the second time since the collapse of the Soviet Union that Islam has become hugely popular in Tajik society."

"Tajiks started to reclaim their religious values after they were granted religious freedom in early 1990s," says Umarov. "In those times, many people supported the newly registered Islamic Revival Party, but soon civil war erupted between supporters of the government and the Islamic opposition.

"After the civil war," he continues. "Islam somehow lost its influence among Tajiks because people were disappointed -- not with the religion itself -- but with those who used Islamic slogans to go to war."

Not Yet Ready

Umarov says if some forces try again to use people's feelings toward Islam for political gain, it will be disastrous and could lead to a second civil war in Tajikistan.

Turajonzoda also insists that, despite people's budding interest in Islam, Tajiks are not yet ready to elect an Islamic government.

"Currently, our people have little information about Islam," the cleric says. "Therefore, under current circumstances they would not accept an Islamic government. Before accepting an Islamic government, they should first learn Islamic culture. They should know what rights Islam provides for them, especially for women. Now, 80 to 90 percent of our people don't have a proper knowledge of Islam."

According to the cleric, Tajiks prefer to live in a secular society where they have no restrictions against their simple observance of their religion.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report.
 
RFE/RL Central Asia Report
 

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Comments
     
by: Askarbek Mambetaliev from: Bishkek
September 10, 2008 10:06
The government officials are not attempting to democratisize Central Asians, they are just pretending to be democrats in order to get an access to Western and Russian political and financial resources. In fact, high officials of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are serving as a proxy to Islamic movements to enter education and curriculum.

by: tokha from: Tajikistan
December 19, 2008 09:28
Askarbek Mambetaliev is right<br />

by: Turgai Sangar
December 19, 2008 10:01
That's inevitable. People look for an identity and Islam is and will be an inalienable part of that process. <br /><br />Soviet Communism, though it had some good social achievements, is dead. The current regimes and their 'national ideologies' are stagnating and in any way not credible. <br /><br />And face it: what have more than fifteen years of IFI-backed 'transition' and neo-liberalism brought to Tajikistan and the rest of the region? Crime and massive corruption at all levels. Poverty and social degeneration including mass prostitution, homosexuality, alcoholism and drugs. What else? International financial institutions and consultants who have dislocated the economy and feed the ruling nomenclatura, and a fake Western-funded civil society that is only after Western grants. <br />

by: Citizen
January 29, 2009 23:16
The Islamic identity shouldn't remain as only option for Central Asians, because it couldn't prove to be a progressive ideology for the region. Human history shows how European, Korean and American nation have a flourishing point as they changed their beliefs into biblical ones. The Central Asians need to follow that pattern, stop Islam, which has been long enouph there and change their religion into Christianity.

by: ULUGBEK
February 28, 2009 20:35
MASHAALLAH!!!!!!!!!!1.... BUT DON`T GO TO IRAN

by: Abdullo
March 05, 2009 18:29
There should be a freedom of choice of religion. Ultimately, it's God, not Muftyi or mulla, who should decide what is right and what is wrong. Muftyi may go to hell. Who knows? Allah doesn't garantee paradise in Quran.

by: ahmed
March 05, 2009 22:32
Islam wins hearts and minds and is based on truth. Turkey after a long brush with islam finally accepted its principles and now is strict about following it. If you give up islam, Allah will punish you with humiliation and suffering.

by: sadaf from: india
May 13, 2009 09:14
islam is the religion which is choosen by the creator {allha}and no other religion is accepted on the day of judgement. so all my dear brother's and sister's search for the true religion . the only true religion exist in the world is islam so embrace islam and see the change in your life as a peace<br />

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