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In Tajikistan, youth perceive atheists as enemies of religion

Back in 30s in Tajikistan there was a “Society of the Atheists,” freely operating and clearly enjoying state support. But now atheists, because of the agressive reaction of society, prefer to stay low and quiet.


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Hafiz Boboyorov. Photo DW
Hafiz Boboyorov. Photo DW

Tajik scientist Hafiz Boboyorov was born 45 years ago in an ordinary Muslim family. In the 6th grade he read about the Egyptian pharaoh, who declared himself a god. This invoked his first thoughts about atheism.

– As far as I can remember, I always internally communicated with God. About the meaning of human life, which is full of problems, hardships, pain and scars, says Boboerov.

But, according to him, he did not receive answers to his questions.

– Once I went to a new rural cemetery, sat near the graves and thought about the secrets of being and non-being. Then, when I read books, I involuntarily started thinking about it. None of the philosophical books, including the works of atheists, has given a clear answer, says Boboerov.

Boboerov turned to atheism after reading most prominent religious books, such as the Avesta, the Quran, and the Bible.

According to Boboyorov, today there is no scientific evidence indicating existence or non-existence of God, and atheism is the only classical teaching that serves as an alternative to religion.

Boboyorov speaks about matters of faith only with like-minded people, because he believes that ordinary people are too sensitive to religious topics, and perceive every doubt as an insult and slander.

Despite his atheistic views, Boboyorov created the conditions for his family members so that each of them could feel in an atmosphere of free choice of faith and belief.

“Creating a society where everyone is free to choose their faith is my position, my social and philosophical proposals,” said Hafiz Boboerov.

At the time of the USSR, atheism was part of state ideology. Photo: TASS
At the time of the USSR, atheism was part of state ideology. Photo: TASS

The last few years Boboyorov lives in Europe.

Society’s sensitivity to atheism

About thirty years ago, no one would be surprised at specific views of Boboyorov and his associates. In the 1930s, officially recognized “Society of Atheists of the Tajik SSR” functioned in Soviet Tajikistan. Atheism was a part of Soviet political strategy and ideology in general.

However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union the opinion of the state and society regarding religion has changed. The role of religion in society has grown and it has now become difficult to declare a free choice of religion.

Currently, most citizens of Tajikistan identify as Muslims, and some as adherents of other religions.

According to Radio Ozodi, the US Religious Liberties Commission in its 2016 annual report stated that the vast majority of Tajik citizens are believers and only 0.01 percent are atheists.

Despite their small numbers, atheists are criticized by most believers.

A few years ago, a teacher Zafar Kabutov, who spoke on atheism with schoolchildren was attacked in the Rudaki district.

At the same time, representatives of the Islamic clergy criticized Kabutov’s views.

Another occasion when atheists were harshly criticized is the activities of society “The World of Thoughts”. The Tajik philosopher Komil Bekzoda created it in 1993 with a group of like-minded people. During the meetings they discussed issues of being and non-being and in early 2014, the organisation issued a brochure – “The Mentality of the Future”. In this work, members of the World of Thoughts claimed that as a result of philosophical study, they established that there is no god. This book has provoked fierce criticism in the media and social networks.

The well-known Tajik religious leader Eshon Mahmudjon Turajonzoda has published a number of critical articles in the media in which he called the findings of society false citing examples and providing evidence. 

Atheists are in a clear minority

Zulaykho Usmonova. Photo from Facebook profile
Zulaykho Usmonova. Photo from Facebook profile

Doctor of Philosophy Zulaykho Usmonova believes that the reason for such intolerance is that it is difficult for people to accept different opinions, especially with it concerns conscience and religion.

– Now atheists is a minority. This is a minority that exists under hate and pressure. This is the reason why people – not just young people – prefer to hide their religious and non-religious beliefs, ”Usmonova says.

Meanwhile, according to her, in some advanced countries there is a distinct decrease in the role of religion in society and in people’s thinking.

Criticism and persecution of atheistic beliefs

Amin Karimov (name and surname changed) is another Tajik atheist, who says he was born in a mullah’s family. Parents brought up Amin in the spirit of responsibility before God for his committments.

Karimov, when he was in his second year at the University, began to think about atheism and started reading atheistic literature. At this time, he wrote his first article on the topic of atheism, after which he was ridiculed by groupmates.

In his opinion, Tajik society is not tolerant and whenever Karimov speaks of his convictions, he always encounters an intolerant reaction from those around him. Karimov says he heard hundreds of insults and slander against his atheistic beliefs.

Legislation prohibits insults on basis of atheistic beliefs

Tajikistan demonstrates harsh reaction and intolerance despite the Law of the Republic of Tajikistan on “freedom of conscience and religious associations”. It contains a rule that prohibits “inciting all kinds of hatred and religious conflicts, insulting the religious and atheistic beliefs of citizens.”

Afshin Mukim. . Photo Ozodi.org
Afshin Mukim. . Photo Ozodi.org

Press Secretary of the Committee on Religion, Traditions, Celebrations and Customs under the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan Afshin Mukim,  noted in the interview to CABAR.Asia that Tajikistan’s legislation ensures the rights of atheists.

– Given the fact that our society is traditional, it is possible that sometimes relations are uneven. Cases that go beyond tolerance are possible. However, the Constitution of Tajikistan and other relevant laws provide guarantees for ensuring all the rights of these people. No one has the right to bandy out anyone’s faith or disbelief, ” said Afshin Mukim.

Mukim found it difficult to name the number of atheists.

– Information about adherents of various religions comes from existing religious associations. That is, when a person is an atheist, he does not belong to any religious organization, Mukim specified.

“Intolerance is the result of ignorance of religion”

Abdufatokh Vokhidov. Photo CABAR.asia
Abdufatokh Vokhidov. Photo CABAR.asia

According to journalist Abdufatokh Vokhidov, in Tajikistan at least the last hundred years, people from childhood were brought up in isolation from religion. People learned about Islam and other religions from the older generation.

– That is, the knowledge of the majority of the country’s population about Islam was not scientific, it was incomplete and superficial. The state is not interested in rectifying this situation. Schools do not even teach the basics of religion. As a result, young people fall into error, falling under the influence of various religious movements, says Vohidov.

In his opinion, due to the lack of reliable, religious knowledge, young people are not able to understand religious notions and cannot independently tell the good from the bad.

– Some people always negatively perceive a different point of view. Desire for resistance serves them as a tool for defence. Therefore, youth perceive atheists as enemies of religion, ”says Vakhidov.


This publication was produced under IWPR project «Forging links and raising voices to combat radicalization in Central Asia».

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