Accessibility links

Good Grief: Tajik Officials Ban Loud Wailing, Black Clothing At Funerals


Funerals in Tajikistan can be anything but quiet, somber affairs.

Bereaved, mostly female, family members frequently wail and lament so loudly that their cries can be heard throughout the neighborhood.

In rare cases, families even hire professionals to ululate even more loudly, reinforcing the atmosphere of extreme grief and anguish.

It’s considered a sign of love and respect for the deceased in many parts of Tajikistan.

But now authorities there have ordered that the howling must stop, along with the pulling of one’s hair and the beating of one’s head, during funerals.

New guidelines released this month by Tajikistan's State Committee For Religious Affairs And The Regulation Of Customs And Functions say family and friends may cry to mourn their dead but that screaming or hiring others to howl "is forbidden."

They mark the latest in a rash of official steps aimed at governing aspects of Tajiks' private lives, from the length of their whiskers to "alien" knots in their head scarves or "wasteful" amounts of food at their wedding receptions. In some cases, they describe it as an effort to limit creeping religious extremism.

The religious committee also advised citizens to stick to their “blue” tradition. Female mourners in Tajikistan often wear blue, while men don a traditional buttonless blue coat known locally as a chapan or joma.

“According to the customs of our nation, wearing black at funerals is not permitted,” the document says.

That line echoes Tajik authorities' recent efforts to outlaw long black dresses, regarded by some as an outward expression of fundamentalist or extremist Islamic views.

But the ululation question is not easily attributable to faith, with historical roots in the Middle East but also in India, Africa, and ancient Greece, as well as in the battle cries of Alexander the Great's men.

“The guideline [limiting wailing] will be widely supported by many Tajiks, because wailing is often more about show than genuine emotion. It’s theatrical,” Saida Rahimova, a Dushanbe resident, says. "But perhaps some people would say that they want to be able to mourn the way they like."

The religious committee's spokesman, Afshin Muqim, pointed out that the guideline is now law and must be obeyed. He added that it is based on Islamic teachings and Tajik custom and law.

With additional reporting by RFE/RL’s Tajik Service
XS
SM
MD
LG