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Tajik Cleric Says Textbooks Misinterpret Islam

Tajik schools also ban Islamic dress.
Tajik schools also ban Islamic dress.
A prominent Tajik cleric and politician has accused the country's education officials of misinterpreting many historical facts about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad in Tajik schoolbooks.

In an open letter to the Ministry of Education and numerous media interviews, Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda has said that the textbooks' authors have taken an "unprofessional, irrational, and sometimes insulting and offensive stance" toward Islam and Islamic values.

Turajonzoda, who is a member of Tajikistan's upper house of parliament, said the textbooks portray the Prophet Muhammad as a creator of a new religion -- not as the messenger of God -- and suggest that Islam and the Koran were no more than "the product of the prophet's dreams and imagination."

According to Turajonzoda, some of the textbooks, including "The History of the Middle Ages" for sixth-grade students, distort the very principle of Islam, claiming some of God's messages and orders were in fact the prophet's suggestions.

"Among many others issues, there are three major matters in Islam that were divine revelation," the cleric says, "and they include the status of the holy city of Mecca as the center of Islam, the status of the Kaaba as the most sacred site in Islam, and making the hajj the fifth pillar of Islam."

Turajonzoda says he was "outraged and appalled" that the book alleges that the three issues were some sort of political agreement reached between the prophet and leaders of a tribe in Mecca.

"Even Soviet-era textbooks, which were openly atheistic, didn't deny historical facts like our current authors do," Turajonzoda tells RFE/RL's Tajik Service.

The Education Ministry has yet to officially respond to Turajonzoda's open letter. Education Minister Abdujabbor Rahmonov has told RFE/RL that the ministry has been planning for some time to "rewrite some of the textbooks." However, he said, "it's not our top priority; first of all, we have to think about providing textbooks to our schools."

Deliberate Misinterpretation?

But the former head of the State Committee for Religious Affairs, Said Ahmadov, has rejected Turajonzoda's claims about the misrepresentation of Islam in Tajik textbooks, saying the "material has been taken from appropriate Arab-language and other religious sources."

Speaking to RFE/RL, Ahmadov accused the prominent cleric of proposing the censorship of school programs.

Turajonzoda is a former leader of the Islamic opposition.
For his part, Turajonzoda says that the history of Islam was misinterpreted deliberately in textbooks to give the young generation a distorted idea about Islam and poison their minds.

"I don't think the order has come from the president himself," Turajonzoda says. "Government officials who deal with education and ideological issues, most of whom came through the Soviet-era atheistic schools, are involved in it."

Turajonzoda insists it's a part of a wider government campaign to restrict the increasing influence of Islam in Tajik society.

Earlier this week, authorities in the capital Dushanbe's Sino district closed down a mosque, saying it lacked an official license. The mosque has been operating since 1928, despite the Soviet-era clampdown on religious institutions.

In the past two years, dozens of mosques have been closed down all over the country and at least two Dushanbe mosques were bulldozed after officials accused them of failing to register with local authorities. Some former mosques have been turned into pool halls, public baths, and beauty salons.

Many imams who have tried to register their mosques complain about a complicated bureaucratic procedure involving "a lot of unnecessary paperwork."

All In Good Time

At the same time, the wearing of Islamic hijab has been outlawed in public schools and government offices. Last month, shopkeepers in central Dushanbe told RFE/RL that female employees were ordered to remove their head scarves if they wanted to keep their jobs.

The government, however, insists that it maintains complete religious freedom in the country. Unlike during Soviet times, people are free to attend mosque prayers, fast during the holy month of Ramadan, and educate their children in officially registered religious schools.

The Education Ministry has said female students have the right to wear hijab outside schools, but they must observe secular schools' rules banning Islamic dress inside school buildings.

As far as the disputed textbooks and their content on the history of Islam are concerned, Education Minister Rahmonov says: "We're going to revise [the textbooks], but not now, because we have other priorities at the moment. All in good time."

RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report
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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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