Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon apparently takes great pride in breaking records.
A month after officially raising the country's flag on the world's tallest unsupported flagpole in the Tajik capital, the president began construction of what is going to be Central Asia's biggest mosque, not far from downtown Dushanbe.
Rahmon demonstrated a hidden skill when he took control of an excavator to start digging the foundation for the building.
The $100 million project will be completed by 2014, Tajik officials told local media. The Persian Gulf kingdom of Qatar is putting up 70 percent of the cost of the project, with Tajikistan raising the rest.
The mosque will accommodate some 115,000 worshippers at a time -- or approximately one-sixth of the population of Dushanbe, a city of some 700,000.
The construction of the mosque initially started in 2009, but the project was halted for unknown reasons.
The plans are being implemented at a time when Dushanbe has come under criticism for putting pressure on religious institutions.
Dozens of mosques has been closed down or denied registration in different provinces, with authorities saying they did not meet requirements.
Officials in the southern Khatlon region are set to turn several unregistered mosques
into gyms and aid stations, AsiaPlus news agency recently reported. Some 16 mosques in Khatlon's Jomi district have been turned into cultural centers.
Over 1,000 Tajik religious students were brought home from foreign Islamic schools last year, after President Rahmon warned they faced the risk of becoming terrorists and extremists.
Officials in Dushanbe maintain they do not restrict freedom of religion. There are currently over 3,800 officially registered mosques in Tajikistan, including some 40 grand mosques.
-- Farangis Najibullah