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Tajikistan Launches Anti-Beard Campaign

Many Sunni Muslims believe that praying behind an imam without a beard is incorrect.
DUSHANBE -- Tajik officials have launched a new campaign against men with long beards in which police detain them in public, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

Maruf Odina, imam of the Al-Bukhari Mosque, which is about 30 kilometers east of Dushanbe, told RFE/RL today he was detained on a Dushanbe street and brought to a police station because of his long beard.

He said a number of other long-bearded men were brought in by police for questioning.

Odina said he was kept for about four hours and freed after police were able to identify him and acknowledged that as an imam he has to have a beard.

Interior Ministry spokesman Mahmadullo Asadulloev confirmed to RFE/RL that a campaign against men with long beards had begun. But he said it was only against suspected followers of Salafism, a strict form of Islam.

Asadulloev added that all "suspicious men" detained during the campaign would be freed after they were questioned, listed, and fingerprinted.

Orhan Jamal, a "Newsweek" correspondent in Moscow who recently visited the troubled Rasht region of eastern Tajikistan, told RFE/RL that before the trip he shaved his long beard to avoid attracting the attention of Tajik security officials.

But he said he forgot that his passport picture shows him with a long beard, which caused problems.

Growing a beard is a sunnah, a habit or practice of the Prophet Muhammad, and something that should be done by Sunni Muslims, especially imams.

Many Sunni Muslims believe that praying behind an imam without a beard is incorrect.

In Tajikistan, long beards are worn mainly by followers of Salafism, which was banned by the Supreme Court in January 2009 as an extremist movement.