Tajik authorities say graduates of foreign religious schools could pose a threat to their homeland -- and they're taking steps to address the issue.
Tajik students studying at Cairo's Al-Azhar University say they are concerned about Dushanbe's request that the prominent Islamic school send back anyone studying outside official government quotas.
Representatives of the students told RFE/RL's Tajik Service
that they have appealed to Tajikistan's Embassy in Cairo and the university administration to allow some 50 Tajik students to complete their studies at Al-Azhar.
The students entered the university privately and now fear the Al-Azhar might send them home, as required by the authorities in Dushanbe.
"Some students are returning home because their parents have been questioned about their children's whereabouts," student representatives say.
The authorities have stressed lately that Tajik citizens should only enter foreign religious schools through government quotas or at least with the knowledge of the country's education officials.
Education authorities and Tajik diplomats abroad – most notably the country's ambassador to Pakistan – have repeatedly warned that some young men from Tajikistan have ended up in unregistered and underground madrasahs with extremist agendas.
The most serious warning, however, came most recently from President Emomali Rahmon.
Shortly before the start of the new school year, Rahmon called on parents
to bring their children back from foreign madrasahs.
"Most of them will become extremists and terrorists, because those schools don't only teach religion," Rahmon said.
He added that the Tajik religious authorities had set up their own religious schools and opened an Islamic university in Dushanbe to train domestic mullahs.
The Education Ministry announced recently that students returning from foreign Islamic schools would take a "rehabilitation" program. The ministry did not elaborate on the details.
Education officials say they do not have the exact number of Tajik citizens undergoing religious studies abroad. They estimate there are at least 6,000 of them. However, they say that only some 2,000 have informed the authorities about their religious studies abroad.
-- Farangis Najibullah