In Tajikistan, the clergy want to restore their reputation and return their former social status.
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Meeting with representatives of the clergy in Pyanj district. Photo: CABAR.asia
In Khatlon region on the south of Tajikistan, the clergy, apparently competing each other, are improving public spaces in cities and districts.
The schools and healthcare centers construction, ambulance cars purchase, roads construction and pipelines installation in villages became the field of the clergy’s activity, which became notable in almost every corner of the region.
According to observers, by doing so, imam-khatibs of Friday mosques and mullahs want to restore their reputation and regain their status in Tajik society.
A few years ago, the clergy’s authority was significantly damaged after law enforcement agencies brought to light many videos in which the mullahs were inciting someone to engage in sexual activities or were engaged in other reprehensible, from worshippers’ viewpoint, acts. The closure of many mosques alerted the clergy even more.
Experts from the Khatlon region believe that Khatlon clergy lost credibility among the country’s religious population as a result of a law enforcement campaign.
According to the regional administration’s official data, there are 1,734 mosques or religious associations per 4 million people. Recently, hundreds of mosques have been closed and reprofiled due to the lack of official permits. Some part of them became healthcare centers, cultural institutions, and other public organizations.
Usmonali Nurov, imam-khatib of the city’s main mosque, said that he had repaired a school in the Okgazi jamoat of the Vakhsh district at his own expense, which was 100 thousand somoni ($10.6 thousand).
Nurov noted that charity has always been a feature of the Muslims’ spiritual life. Mullahs help orphans and poor people with donations collected in mosques, as well as improve city streets and parks, for example, plant flower beds and trees.
Yovon district’s khukumat (local government) reported that imam-khatibs’ contribution was a significant help in the public affairs of the region. For example, mosques bought desks and chairs for district schools on worshippers’ donations. In addition, the mullahs are going to build two additional classrooms which cost 34 thousand somoni (about $4 thousand).
CABAR.asia source from the Yovon district administration reported that they are expecting to build a school on donations from imam-khatibs from the public mosque named after Hasan Huseynov. Another official from the Panj district of the Khatlon region said that the mullahs had contributed to the broken roads repair in their area.
Department of Religion and Regulation of Traditions of Khatlon region’s khukumat told CABAR.asia about the ongoing campaign of raising funds from the imams and spiritual leaders of religious associations for investment in development programs and charitable assistance. However, the source found it difficult to specify the exact amount that the leaders of religious organizations have already spent.
Were Imam-Khatibs Forced to Repair the Lenin Monument?
The described activities cannot exist without incidents. A few months ago, imam-khatibs of Shahritus district, located 120 km south of the capital, received instructions from the district administration to repair the monument to the founder of the Soviet State, Vladimir Lenin.
This monument, installed during the Soviet period, lost its original appearance under the conditions of heat, wind and time. The district administration reported that the imam-khatibs of the region repaired the monument with the collected funds.
Leaders of the clergy and worshippers do not honor Lenin because of the anti-religious position of the proletariat leader. As a source in the local administration told CABAR.asia, the regional authorities forced imam-khatibs to repair the monument.
Religious leaders admitted that they have contributed and will contribute further to the improvement of their districts and villages, both by their own choice and by the local authorities’ instructions.
Previously, donations collected in mosques were distributed only to the needy, orphans, widows, disabled and poor people. But lately, as reports from various cities and districts show, imam-khatibs contribute to construction projects, usually funded from the state budget.
Amonullohi Khatloni, an expert on social issues from Khatlon, believes that the authorities were able to break the traditional donation scheme that had existed for centuries, since religious leaders lost their former authority among worshipers.
According to him, such donation activity of imam-khatibs is linked to the campaign of 2014-2016, when the “immoral” behavior of religious leaders was shown on the Internet and even on state TV channels.
“Those videos on which several clergymen were engaged in obscene affairs, perverted, then read prayers and wrote ayahs on the women’s bodies, went viral on social networks through mobile phones. Law enforcement agencies broadcasted some of those videos in state TV plots, where the characters were called “eshon”, “domullo”, “khazrat”. Those events destroyed the authority of the spiritual leaders”, said Amonullohi Khatloni.
Another expert, Suhrobi Safar, believes that there is nothing wrong with the charitable activities of religious leaders, but stresses that “the authorities should engage in the schools and healthcare centers construction themselves, since it is their direct responsibility”.
“Religious leaders should help people in need, as it has been for centuries. Now, they do good things by authorities’s order. Although, the religious leaders themselves, of course, want to restore the influence on the population that they have recently lost, through such useful activities as the construction of public buildings, schools, healthcare centers”, says Suhrobi Safar.
In Khatlon, 561 mosques have switched to other forms of activities. The regional prosecutor’s office reported that they all functioned illegally. Now, there are libraries, first-aid posts, cultural and educational centers in these locations.
Closure of hundreds of mosques demonstrates that the authorities fear excessive growth of religiosity among the population, which may lead to radicalization, as observers say. However, it is almost impossible to get comments from spiritual leaders on this issue.
Meanwhile, all mosques remain under the strict supervision of state bodies. In 10 mosques that were visited by CABAR.asia journalists, we were informed that the process of prayers and sermons of Muslim clerics is being monitored and filmed on the video cameras installed here.
This publication was produced under IWPR project «Forging links and raising voices to combat radicalization in Central Asia».