Worshippers in Tajikistan are dissatisfied with the ban on visiting mosques and accuse the authorities of bias. At the same time, doctors and some clergy members believe that these measures taken to prevent COVID-19 spread are justified.
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In Tajikistan, the mosques were the first among public places to fall under the bans related to preventing the coronavirus pandemic spread. It happened on April 18, even before the authorities officially recognized the presence of COVID-19 in the country – on April 30.
Even then, some of the worshippers declared on social media the authorities’ bias and drew attention to the fact that schools, universities and shopping centers continued to work.
In autumn, the authorities lifted all restrictions, except for the ban on worshipping in mosques. The authorities state the ban is needed to prevent the coronavirus spread among the elderly.
Dushanbe resident Shaydullo Davlatov believes that the authorities infringe on the believers’ rights.
“How come this virus spreads only in mosques and is not dangerous for people in markets, schools and other institutions? Is it assumed that the worshippers in mosques are unable to follow sanitary norms?” asked Davlatov.
He believes that the ban on visiting mosques pursues other goals.
“Pay attention to public transport: this is an example of non-compliance with sanitary norms. Why is it not banned?” added Davlatov.
According to him, the Tajik authorities referred to the Islamic countries’ experience, mainly, to Saudi Arabia, where the mosques were also closed. However, in summer, many countries gave permission for the mosques’ opening.
At the same time, some worshippers support the ban. Muhammad Sharipov, 56, Yovon district resident, believes that city mosques can still comply with sanitary requirements, but in rural areas, this is a problem.
“We, the villagers, cannot buy the necessary items to protect ourselves and our children from the virus. If the mosques would be opened, the most vulnerable groups would go there and the situation would only worsen,” Sharipov said.
Afshin Mukim, Spokesman for the Committee of Religion, Regulation of Traditions, Celebrations and Ceremonies under the Government of Tajikistan, told CABAR.asia analytical portal that the mosques’ opening is beyond the competence of the Committee.
“This issue is considered by the Republican Headquarters for strengthening anti-epidemic measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We have no information,” Afshin Mukim said.
Tajik doctors mostly support the authorities’ decision. Salokhiddin Elboev, director of the Centre for Protection of Population from Tuberculosis in the city of Buston, has been treating coronavirus patients since the outbreak of the pandemic. He believes that people of risk groups are better off staying at home.
“There is a high risk of getting infected in mosques. From a medical point of view, it would be better to close the places of worship until the situation improves. During prayers in the mosque, people stand closely to each other, and the possibility of infection increases,” Elboev added.
The imam of the mosque in the city of Isfara Nasrullo Azizov also does not object to the ban on visiting mosques. According to him, “religion, when necessary, always supports scientific conclusions”.
Religious expert Saidakhmad Kalandarov agrees that the ban on visiting mosques amid opening of schools and markets is causing discontent among some believers.
In his opinion, the government should explain its position to society “from a scientific and legal point of view”.
“People should understand that the ban is needed to preserve the health of the elderly, who make up a significant part of those going to mosques. There are many hadiths of the Prophet on this topic. For example, when the plague came to Syria, it was said that anyone who understood that the plague had come to the country should not visit it, and those who were already in that country, should not leave it,” added Kalandarov.
In recent years, international human rights organizations have often criticized the Tajik authorities for violating the believers’ rights. For example, in December 2020, the US Department of State Press Statement ranked Tajikistan among the Countries of Particular Concern for having engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom.”
The Tajik authorities consider these ratings to be biased, and believe they are based on unconfirmed reports.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.