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Tajik Mullahs Raise Funds For Ruling Party HQ

Tajik mullahs have been under intense scrutiny since a spate of sex scandals last year. (file photo)
Tajik mullahs have been under intense scrutiny since a spate of sex scandals last year. (file photo)

Mosques and mullahs in southern Tajikistan are either in a charitable mood, trying to get on the president's good side, or both.

In recent weeks, they have collected nearly $13,500 for the construction of a new local headquarters for President Emomali Rahmon's People's Democratic Party in Tajikistan's Qumsangir district.

But while a spate of sex scandals has added to the intense scrutiny faced by Tajik mullahs this year, mullahs in Qumsangir say there is no hidden agenda and that they are not acting on the orders imposed by state authorities.

They insist that the decision to build the headquarters came at their own initiative -- despite the fact that none belongs to the ruling party -- and describe it as a voluntary "charitable act."

"There wasn't any instruction, any pressure forcing us to pay," says village mullah Imomnazar Jannatov, who has contributed a sizeable amount from his family farm's earnings.

Qumsangir Governor Kholmurod Rahmon paid tribute to the religious leaders' generosity, while boasting about his own "creativity" in finding ways to collect funds from citizens in order to fund state-development projects.

Jaloliddin Kamolov, the district head of the state's Religious Affairs Department says there are 27 mosques and some 100 well-to-do religious figures in the area who can afford to contribute to local projects.

He lists the construction of small medical facilities in villages or road repair works as areas where they can help.

Dushanbe-based journalist Dabeeri Kabir, who covers religious issues in Tajikistan, says he wouldn't rule out that the mullahs were indeed acting on their own initiative by raising funds for the local People's Democratic Party headquarters. But he also ties it to their efforts to maintain a good relationship with the authorities.

It certainly cannot hurt after Tajik mullahs saw their reputation tarnished following a spate of scandalous tapes that surfaced over the past two years.

Among them was video footage of a Dushanbe mullah fondling and kissing a woman as part of her infertility treatment.

In another case, a Dushanbe imam made waves when videos featuring him having sexual intercourse were posted on the Internet.

And several other religious figures have been arrested and charged with sexual crimes, while state television has aired extensive reports about alleged sexual misconduct involving mullahs and imams, including a Qumsangir mullah, Qiyomiddin Ghiyosov.

Such things do not sit well with the authorities, who maintain tight control over mosques and other religious institutions. Mosque imams are appointed by the state Committee on Religious Affairs, tested by the state on their knowledge of Islam and other issues, and the topics of their sermons are determined by the authorities.

"The videos seriously tainted their image," says Shahriya, a teacher from Qumsangir's Panj village who gave only her first name. "Mullahs have to work hard to restore their reputation," says Shahriya, adding that pitching in on development projects "might help."

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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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