Just days ahead of New Year's, Shukria Sharipova, a homeless Tajik mother, was told by her local officials in the southern city of Kulob that she was finally getting a roof over her head.
The new home, however, turned out to be an unsanctioned mosque that was deemed by the authorities to be "illegal" and shut down last year. And the decision to house the family in what many locals consider to be their mosque is not sitting well with some.
Deputy Mayor Kenjamoh Saidova announced on December 28 that officials had introduced Sharipova to "her new home" in the Lohuti neighborhood, not far from downtown Kulob.
The wide and airy prayer hall with a high ceiling, carved wooden doors, and large windows is a far cry from the elevator shaft in an abandoned Soviet-era construction site on the city's outskirts that Sharipova and her three young children had been calling home.
But the mosque's use as a makeshift shelter drew criticism from about a dozen local men who gathered there in protest as Sharipova returned to settle in.
"It's a mosque, designated for prayers, not for living," Lohuti resident Islom Hasanov argued. "If the authorities want to use this building for something else, then they should turn it to a clinic or a library. We don't have a clinic and a library in the neighborhood."
A middle-aged man chimed in, saying that "there are many other families on our own street who need a place to live, but we wouldn’t even think of asking authorities to house us in the mosque because it belongs to everyone here."
Hasanov and other assembled residents demanded that the government provide another place for Sharipova to live.
Sharipova said that, considering the anger of her would-be neighbors, she cannot move in.
"People are obviously unhappy about it," she said. "How can I possibly live here? People would taunt me and my children if we move here. Living here would be disrespect to God and the local people."
Sharipova now says she wants city officials to give her a land allotment to build a home, a request Lohuti residents support. Hasanov told RFE/RL they would even consider collecting money to help Sharipova build a new home.
Prayer House Shutdowns
The mosque in the Lohuti neighborhood was built by local people, but was closed down in August 2016 by city authorities who said it was constructed without official permission.
Several other prayer houses in Kulob and elsewhere in Tajikistan have been shut down in recent year as authorities intensified control over Islamic institutions, citing threats of extremism.
Last year, Kulob authorities housed seven homeless families in mosques closed down for lack of license.
Sharipova, meanwhile, has gone back to the abandoned construction site where she has lived for the past three years.
Sharipova said she sold her house in the remote Hamadoni district, near the Afghan border, several years ago when the family needed money for medical treatment for her husband.
The impoverished family then moved to a modest rented place in Kulob, as her husband sought treatment in hospital. He died in 2012.
With no means to pay the rent, Sharipova said, she eventually found herself having to move out and ended up on the streets.
Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Tajik Service correspondent Mahmudjon Rahmatzoda