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Tajik Imam Fired For Insulting Worshippers At Ramadan Prayers

Footage shared on social media appears to show Nematzoda arguing with one of the worshippers and using foul language in front of a large group of men.

Tajikistan's state-backed religious authorities say a prominent imam has been fired after a video emerged that apparently shows him berating worshippers at a mosque during Ramadan prayers.

The video also purportedly shows Jamoliddin Nematzoda pushing one worshipper out of the mosque.

Tajikistan's Religious Affairs Committee announced on May 19 that Nematzoda, the imam of the Hazrati Muhammad Grand Mosque in a Dushanbe suburb, was fired for "failing to comply with mosque regulations," and violating its "ethical and spiritual" values.

The cleric's son Azamatullo was also fired from his position as an imam at a smaller mosque in the Rudaki district, committee spokesman Afshin Muqim told RFE/RL. Afshin gave no reason for Azamatullo's dismissal. But Azamatullo is also seen in the controversial video recording.

Footage shared on social media appears to show Nematzoda arguing with one of the worshippers and using foul language in front of a large group of men.

Eyewitnesses told RFE/RL that the incident took place at the Daryo-obod village mosque in Nematzoda's native Rudaki district on May 7, the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

According to the eyewitnesses, the argument began after several people complained that the Tarawih -- special Ramadan prayers -- was being led by Azamatullo instead of the mosque's own imam.

Neither Nematzoda nor his son are the imams of the village of Daryo-obod. It's not known why the two were there that night, instead of organizing Tarawih at their own respective mosques.

The eyewitnesses said Nematzoda -- angry at the complaints being raised by worshippers -- physically confronted one of the men. "Who are you to protest?" an angry, raised voiced can be heard in the video.

"I am an ordinary man from [the town of] Kulob," the worshipper responds.

Nematzoda, holding a microphone, walks toward the worshipper, who can be heard saying, "You've no right to grab my collar."

Then Nematzoda appears to drag the man out of the mosque while other worshippers try unsuccessfully to stop him.

"Please don't do this," one worshipper can be heard saying.

"It's not appropriate for you. You're the imam," another pleads.

Nematzoda then hurls insults at the congregation. "You will never be able to pray in this mosque ever again," he says on a loudspeaker. "I shall close this mosque down," he threatens, using a rude and insulting local slang expression.

"You should be ashamed of yourself," Nematzoda says.

Not A Role Model

He goes on to suggest, without any evidence, that some of the worshippers are terrorists and extremists -- saying followers of the banned Salafi movement and the outlawed Islamic Renaissance Party "have gathered here again."

In Tajikistan, calling someone a follower of banned religious groups is often taken as a threat.

Using foul language in mosques is considered unacceptable, especially when it comes from imams who are expected to be role models for their communities who uphold strict moral values.

Nematzoda and his son did not respond to RFE/RL's requests to tell their side of the story. Nematzoda's relatives said he had been sick and was undergoing medical treatment.

The Religious Affairs Committee said the decision to fire the father and son was made on May 18 during a council meeting of the mosque's founders. Nematzoda is the son of a former mufti, the highest religious authority in the Muslim-majority Central Asian country.

'Not In My District'

It's not the first time video has emerged that apparently shows him stirring up controversy during a religious gathering. In 2017, a video was shared on social media that showed Nematzoda in a heated argument with a fellow religious figure during a private Islamic funeral ceremony in the Rudaki district.

In accordance with the will of the deceased man, his family had invited a well-known mullah named Nuriddin Turajonzoda from the neighboring Vahdat district to perform the funeral prayer.

But Nematzoda refused to allow Turajonzoda to conduct the prayer. Nematzoda argued that as the chief imam of Rudaki at the time, it was necessary for him to perform the funeral prayer -- regardless of the deceased man's will.

"This district has an owner. I am the one who conducts all funeral prayers in Rudaki. I won't allow you," Nematzoda told the other mullah as a large group of people looked on.

Mosques in Tajikistan operate under strict government control. Imams are appointed by local authorities and are expected to support the policies of the secular government.

Tajikistan, a country with a population of about 9.5 million, has about 3,000 mosques.

Written by Farangis Najibullah with reporting by RFE/RL's Tajik Service