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Tajikistan

By:
Muriel Atkin
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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Tajikistan

An independent state in Central Asia as of December 1991, Tajikistan was formerly a constituent republic of the Soviet Union. In the nineteenth century the area was divided between the emirate of Bukhara and the khanate of Kokand; in the late nineteenth century, Kokand was annexed by the Russian Empire while Bukhara became a semiautonomous protectorate of Russia.

As of the 2000 census, the overwhelming majority of Tajikistan's population of more than six million belonged to nationalities that were historically Muslim. Tajiks (and eastern Iranian peoples counted as Tajiks in Soviet censuses) comprised almost 80 percent of the population, Uzbeks 15 percent, and Kyrgyzes and Türkmens each about one percent or less. The remainder of the population comprised historically non-Muslim nationalities. A large majority of the Muslim peoples of Tajikistan are Sunnī and follow the Ḥanafī school of law. A small minority is traditionally Ismāʿīlī Shīʿī; it includes certain eastern Iranian peoples and some Tajiks living in the mountainous southeast of the republic in Badakhshan. Sufism, especially the Naqshbandīyah order, has strong historic roots in Tajikistan and adjoining republics.

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most Muslims in what later became Tajikistan continued to practice their faith as they had traditionally done. Mosques, maktabs (elementary schools), madrasahs (boarding schools), and popularly venerated holy places were numerous. There was a high degree of conformity with the standard obligations of Islamic observance.

Soviet Period.

Despite major changes during the Soviet era, there was significant continuity in the practice of Islam in Tajikistan. Except for a period of relative tolerance in the early and mid-1920s, the Soviet regime sharply restricted the practice of Islam, and, under Stalin and Khrushchev, launched campaigns to destroy it along with other religions. Religious figures were arrested, religious books destroyed, religious schools abolished, and religious instruction of minors made a crime. Mosques and other holy places were closed, converted to secular use, or allowed to fall into ruin. The number of legally recognized religious figures (the “official clergy” in Soviet parlance) was limited to far too few to meet the needs of the Muslim population. By 1989 Tajikistan had only seventeen legally registered Muslim congregations even though roughly 90 percent of the country's more than five million inhabitants belonged to historically Muslim nationalities.

Tajikistani Muslims adapted by drawing on the traditional practices of ordinary believers from pre-Soviet times. Religious instruction of children continued in the home and in de facto but illegal local maktabs. The main life-cycle rituals and major holidays were still observed. People made pilgrimages to tombs of holy men and to many natural sites associated with the miraculous. Numerous mullahs, Ṣūfīs, fortunetellers, and pious individuals served the needs of believers in ways the “official clergy” did not.

Yet Soviet policies did produce changes. Many people became less observant or nonobservant, although a large proportion of them still considered Islam an important part of their national heritage. By the end of the Soviet era, a number of religious leaders and Islamic activists were criticizing their fellow Muslims for knowing little about the religion beyond the major rituals.

The status of Islam changed in the late Soviet and early independence periods (since 1989); official anti-Islamic measures virtually disappeared, and citizens became openly assertive of the importance of Islam to them not only as religion, but also as a system of worldly values (in contrast to Soviet ideology) and as a part of their cultural and national heritage. Political parties representing a range of ideologies (even the Communist Party) declared their respect for Islam and an explicitly Muslim party, the Islamic Renaissance (or Revival) Party, was established. By 1991 Tajikistan had nearly three thousand legally functioning mosques. The old distinctions between “official” and “unofficial” Islam collapsed in the face of the rapid expansion of open observance.

Post-Soviet Period and Independence.

At the end of the Soviet era and beginning of the independence period, a power struggle developed between those who wanted to preserve an authoritarian regime modeled on the Soviet system, though without insistence on Communist ideology, and those who sought some alternative form of government. The Islamic Renaissance Party and the chief qāḍī (Islamic judge) of Tajikistan joined secular parties in what became known as the Opposition; some Islamic figures sided with those who wanted a quasi-Soviet political system. The conflict between the two camps escalated into civil war in mid-1992. The defeat of the Opposition was decided in the winter of 1992–1993, although some clashes continued until the peace agreement of 1997. The war cost thousands of lives (the exact number is unknown) and created many refugees, among them the leaders of the Islamic Renaissance Party and the chief qāḍī. The victors in the civil war banned the Islamic Renaissance Party in 1993 but restored its legal standing in the wake of the peace agreement, making it the only legal Islamic party in Central Asia. A few members of the party held government office briefly in accordance with the agreement but were later removed. The party fared poorly in postwar elections, although it is difficult to judge how much of this reflects a lack of public support and how much is the consequence of unfree elections. The government increased its pressure on the party in the early twenty-first century, accusing it of extremism and arresting a few of its officials.

The independence era saw the reorganization of the state's system for administering Islam. With the flight into exile of the chief qāḍī, the title of the head of the administration was changed to muftī (chief legal scholar). The person who held that office had supported the winning coalition in the civil war and advocated the separation of religion from politics. After he was assassinated in 1996 under circumstances which remain unclear, the office of muftī was abolished. In its place an Islamic Center, headed by a Council of ʿUlamāʿ (religious scholars), was established. The Islamic Center appoints imams for individual mosques, although in practice government officials influence those decisions. Individual mosques and their congregations can register with the state to have legal standing, but this can be difficult to accomplish. By early in the twenty-first century there were 251 registered Friday mosques and 3,000 smaller ones registered in Tajikistan as well as an unknown number of unregistered ones.

The government of independent Tajikistan has tightened its control over Islamic institutions since the civil war. The content of Friday sermons is monitored by the authorities. Some imams have been fired from their mosques for political reasons. Some unregistered mosques have been shut down, and the state has refused to register others on the grounds that a locale already has enough for its number of inhabitants.

By early in the twenty-first century, Tajikistan had approximately twenty madrasahs and one Islamic university (the Imam Termizi University in the capital, Dushanbe). Some students are allowed to go abroad for further study of Islam, although the government has begun to curb that practice. Tajikistan's law on religion (1994), in contrast to Soviet legislation, permits the religious instruction of minors, with written parental consent.

Since independence, many more inhabitants of Tajikistan have been able to make the hajj than had been the case in the Soviet era, when it was a rarity. The number of pilgrims is usually a few thousand a year, with the state's Committee on Religious Affairs and the Council of ʿUlamāʿ deciding who will go.

The government of Tajikistan has voiced alarm over the growth of Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) in the country. It is possible that its support comes primarily from members of the country's Uzbek minority. The government banned this party in 2001. Little accurate information on it is available because it is an underground movement. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reports having arrested four hundred people on suspicion of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir between 2001 and 2006, and some have received long prison sentences.

See also ISLAMIC RENAISSANCE PARTY.

Bibliography

  • Atkin, Muriel. “Islam as Faith, Politics, and Bogeyman in Tajikistan.” In The Politics of Religion in Russia and the New States of Eurasia, edited by Michael Bourdeaux, pp. 247–272. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1995. Assessment of the role of Islam in politics in Tajikistan during the late-Soviet era and the post-Soviet civil war.
  • Atkin, Muriel. The Subtlest Battle: Islam in Soviet Tajikistan. Philadelphia: Foreign Policy Research Institute, 1989. Examines the social context of continued Islamic practice and the ways the Soviet regime tried to undermine Islam's influence from the 1970s to the mid-1980s.
  • Atkin, Muriel. “The Survival of Islam in Soviet Tajikistan.”Middle East Journal43, no. 4 (Autumn 1989): 605–618. Explains how Muslims in Tajikistan were able to preserve and disseminate knowledge of Islam, despite the Soviet regime's efforts to prevent that from happening.
  • Atkin, Muriel. “Religious, National, and Other Identities in Central Asia.” In Muslims in Central Asia: Expressions of Identity and Change, edited by Jo-Ann Gross, pp. 46–72. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1992. Discusses the way the theoretically supranational Islamic identity coexists with a strong sense of Tajik national identity and local loyalties in contemporary Central Asia.
  • Central Asia: Islam and the State. Osh and Brussels: International Crisis Group, 2003. Knowledgeable reporting on Islam and politics in Tajikistan and other Central Asian states since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
  • Jonson, Lena. Tajikistan in the New Central Asia. London: I. B. Tauris, 2006. Examination of Tajikistan's domestic politics, including religion, and international relations, especially in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001.
  • Roʿi, Yaacov. Islam in the Soviet Union: From the Second World War to Gorbachev. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. Detailed account of Soviet policy toward Islam that makes extensive use of sources in former Soviet archives.
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