Category Archives: Islam

Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Central Asia

Since independence, the post-Soviet nations of Central Asia have invented a number of new ‘national’ holidays.

kg_paradeYet the celebration of the New Year’s Eve, the Soviet people’s most favorite holiday, still remains a cherished tradition among many people in the region. Read on Global Voices Online >>

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Tajik Authorities Punish Dissident Clerics

Tajik authorities have apparently found a new way to discipline Islamic clerics daring to criticize state policies. The novel approach consists of mobilizing state-controlled Islamic leaders to discredit and penalize the dissidents. In December 2011, the nominally independent Council of Ulamo (CoU) accused three influential clerics, the Turajonzoda brothers, of performing “alien” Shia rituals at their mosque. This is a very serious claim given that most people in Tajikistan are Sunni Muslims. The CoU is a government-controlled body of clerics charged with regulating Islamic activities in the country.

The accusations against the Turajonzoda brothers were leveled in a public statement on December 6. The document alleged that the clerics had performed the Shia ritual of “Ashura” at the Muhammadiya Mosque. This mosque in the brothers’ native village of Turkobod, some 30 kilometers east of the Tajik capital Dushanbe, is considered one of the most prominent in the country. Friday prayers at the mosque commonly attracted between 15,000 and 20,000 people, with many worshippers coming to listen to the traditional Friday sermons. These sermons were consequently circulated on CDs and DVDs across the country and were available for download on a website that the authorities have blocked since May 2011. The oldest of the Turajonzoda brothers, Eshoni Nuriddin, frequently used the sermons to condemn government policies which purportedly restricted Islamic expression in the country. He was repeatedly rebuked by the authorities for these criticisms. In January 2011, Eshoni Nuriddin resigned as imam, ostensibly under pressure from the security agencies. He was replaced by the youngest brother, Muhammadjon.
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Prominent Cleric and His Brothers Face Growing Pressure in Tajikistan

Prominent Tajik religious and political figure, Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda, and his brothers, Nuriddin and Muhammadjon, have, in recent weeks, come under increasing pressure from the authorities. On December 6, 2011, the Council of Ulamo (CoU), a government-controlled body regulating Islamic activities in the country, accused the Turajonzoda brothers of observing the holiday of Ashura, which has a special significance for Shia Muslims. The holiday is not observed in Tajikistan where the majority of people are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi tradition.

The CoU’s statement alleged that on December 2, Nuriddin and Muhammadjon performed the Ashura ritual at the Muhammadiya Mosque. The mosque in the village of Turkobod, some 30 kilometers east of the Tajik capital Dushanbe, is one of the largest in the country. It belongs to the Turajonzoda family. Muhammadjon Turajonzoda served as the mosque’s imam after the elder brother, Nuriddin, had been forced by the authorities to resign in January 2011 (EDM, March 3, 2011).

“We are surprised that the ritual [of Ashura] was performed by members of the prominent religious family of Turajonzoda who claim to belong to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam,” the statement said, adding “This ritual is entirely in contradiction to the Hanafi tradition… [The] Turajonzoda brothers want to popularize an alien religious practice among our people… We must stay vigilant and protect our faith from various plots; we must not allow hypocritical individuals to endanger the spiritual unity of our nation…” The statement also implied that Turajonzoda brothers were responsible for political confrontation leading up to the civil war in Tajikistan in 1992-1997 (www.khovar.tj, December 9).
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“Infidel Santa Claus” Killed By Angry Youths in Tajikistan

When people in Tajikistan discuss whether the celebration of New Year can be reconciled with religious beliefs of the country’s population, it is one thing. But when angry youths kill a man dressed as Santa Claus, calling him an “infidel”, you know that things are getting worrisome.

Parviz Davlatbekov, 24, was murdered in a knife attack in a residential area of Dushanbe early in the morning on January 1. He had dressed as Santa Claus (known more commonly in Tajikistan by its Russian name, ‘Ded Moroz’ or ‘Father Frost’) and was on his way to a party at his relatives’ place when some 30 young men attacked him. According to witnesses, the men shouted “infidel” as they beat Davlatbekov, referring to the Christian origins of Santa Claus as a character. Davlatbekov was rushed to the hospital, where he died the next day of wounds inflicted in the attack.

Tajikistan was part of the officially atheist Soviet Union for almost 70 years. During the Soviet rule, most Tajik families began celebrating the New Year and accepted Santa Claus as the holiday’s main attribute. Following the country’s independence in 1991, most Tajiks continued celebrating the New Year, and Santa Claus remained a widely accepted symbol. However, the increasing religiosity of Tajikistan’s population, more than 95 percent of which are Muslims, has recently given rise to debates over whether the celebration of the New Year and the holiday’s attributes contradict Islamic beliefs. For instance, Saidmukarram Abdulkodirzoda, the head of the Council of Ulems (the highest religious authority in Tajikistan), recently announced that the New Year holiday is “alien to our people and our religion.” Yet, New Year has remained an official holiday in the country, and Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon delivers a televised New Year address every year.

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Kabiri Reelected as Islamic Revival Party Leader in Tajikistan

Muhiddin Kabiri’s reelection as chairman of the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan signals that he has managed to foster internal cohesion within the party and consolidate his power. It also signals that Kabiri’s efforts to reform the group find broad support. Kabiri appears set to use this support to continue transforming the IRPT into a conventional political party, including by deemphasizing its Islamic identity. The transformation of the party is watched closely by the government, which sees the IRPT as the only political force with a potential to challenge President Emomali Rahmon’s grip on power.

BACKGROUND: On September 24, Muhiddin Kabiri was reelected chairman of the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). His reelection serves as an important indication that Kabiri has managed to repair internal divisions which threatened to split Tajikistan’s strongest opposition party for most of the past decade. The rift emerged soon after the party’s long-running leader, Said Abdullo Nuri, was diagnosed with cancer in 2004, and Kabiri – then first deputy chairman – became its de facto leader. His leadership was highly controversial within the party. Unlike many in the party hierarchy, Kabiri did not play any role in the Islamic opposition’s conflict with the government in 1992-1997 and had no Islamic education. Besides, Kabiri was known as a moderate and pragmatic politician with explicitly pro-Western views, which many of the more conservative party members, particularly those with links to Iran, found difficult to accept.
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