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Tolerance in Tajikistan: Non-Muslims Complain, Authorities Do Not See Problems, Experts Talk About Threats

In Tajikistan, amid the killing of foreign tourists, believers of non-Islamic confessions speak of religious intolerance growth. However, the authorities deny this trend.


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He now lives in Dushanbe and works as an economist. Many of his friends and colleagues profess Islam, so he tries to avoid religious topics in communication with them:
“Many of my friends know that I am not a Muslim. Some of them, especially middle-aged people, do not say anything about it. However, when my younger colleagues find out about my faith, they immediately begin to keep their distance. Some of them say, “Why didn’t you become a Muslim? After all, Islam is the true religion”. In such cases I try not to argue”, says Pavel.
He says that every day he feels religious intolerance growth in Tajikistan, where the majority of the population is Muslim.
According to him, this feeling began to grow especially after 2014, when the propaganda of extremist groups began to spread widely among Tajik citizens, primarily among labor migrants in Russia.
The Word “Murtad” (“Apostate”) Became Popular Again
CABAR.asia experts notice that for the first time after the civil war, the word “murtad” (“apostate”) has become popular again in the Tajik society. “Murtad” refers to a person who has converted from Islam to another religion.
Influenced by propaganda, about 2,000 citizens of Tajikistan joined the IS (organization banned in Tajikistan and other countries of the region).
Colonel Gulmurod Halimov with president Emomali Rahmon. Photo: eadaily.com
The most resonant and culminating outcome of this propaganda was the flight to Syria and the accession to IS of Colonel Gulmurod Halimov, the commander of the Special Forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Tajikistan.
According to experts, the spread of extremist views propaganda has led to a decrease in the tolerance level in Tajik society.
In Tajikistan, representatives of other religions, including Christians and Baha’i, say that they are called “kufr” in society (a derogatory cliché for representatives of other faith, non-Muslim – Ed.).
In this regard, not only adherents of other confessions complain, but as well do Tajiks who have refused Islam.
They all say that the Muslims’ attitude towards them is changing for the worse.
Family Split into Two Halves over Religious Controversy
25 years ago, Rahim Amonatov married Adolat, a divorced woman who already had a son Amonulo. Rahim adopted Amonulo; they had a very good relationship. Soon after the marriage, their common son Khairullo was born, and the brothers cared for each other. Years later, Amonulo became a student, made friends in University, and once announced to his family that he did not want to be a Muslim and had converted to another religion. The news surprised his stepfather, but he behaved very restrained. Gradually, Amonulo became the leader of his community and the neighbors’ attitude to his father began to worsen.
“Neighbors stopped to greet me, did not ask me to go to the mosque with them, although I regularly went there, and once the children outside began to tease me: “the pastor’s father”, “the pastor’s father”… I was very angry when Amonulo returned home, and we had a big fight”, says Rahim Amonatov.
In this argument, the mother sided with her son. As a result, stepfather and stepchild had severed communication.
“Our family divided into two hostile groups – I and the younger son, Khairullo, were fastening in Ramadan and prayed five times a day, while Amonulo crossed and prayed in his room”, says Rahim Amonatov.
His wife still did not take any side in the conflict and tried to connect her husband and son. Later Amonulo, without his stepfather’s blessing, married a girl from his community and Rahim Amonatov kicked his stepson out of the house.
“All these years, his mother secretly communicates with him. Our happy family was destroyed by the religious preferences. Many years later, although I still am a faithful Muslim and read namaz, I desire to forgive and return my son back. I wander, if I would succeed”, questions Rahim Amonatov.
Jamoliddin Khomushov: Nobody Can Be Considered a Muslim, If He Denies Jesus
Amid the growing intolerance, the leaders of the Ulemas Council call on Muslims to refrain from aggression against other religions adherents.
Jamoliddin Khomushov, a member of the Ulemas Council. Photo: CABAR.asia
Jamoliddin Khomushov, a member of the Ulemas Council, the only body in Tajikistan entitled to issue fatwas, in CABAR.asia interview said that, according to Islam’s norms, Muslims should respect other religions adherents who live in the same society.
According to Khomushov, one of the requirements for a Muslim is the presence of faith (iman) in all previous prophets.
“For example, nobody can be considered a Muslim if he does not recognize Jesus (the prophet in Christianity – Ed.). On the other hand, the holy book of Muslims – the Quran always convinces its adherents to treat all people well, regardless of their faith”, said Khomushov.
According to the Committee on Religious Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan, based on the 2010 census, 99.4% of the population is Muslim.
41.6 thousand people, or 0.6% of the total population of the country are representatives of other religions, as Islamnews.tj was told by this Committee in March 2013.
Meanwhile, according to the Turkish information portal HaberVaktim, at the end of 2012, 95% of the population professed Islam in Tajikistan. However, the portal did not indicate from which sources this figure was obtained.
According to the report of the International Organization “Open Doors”, 61.7 thousand or 0.7% of the population are Christians living in Tajikistan. Most of them, 72.1%, are Orthodox. However, only about 500 people attend church.
International human rights organizations and Western countries have repeatedly criticized Tajikistan for restricting religious freedom. For example, in 2015, the US State Department called on the Tajik authorities to honor their commitments to respect religious freedoms and beliefs.
In 2009, Tajikistan adopted a law on freedom of conscience and on the religious associations. It prohibits any propaganda of religious ideas outside religious communities.
Customs Service destroyed 5,000 calendars seized from the Baptist community of Tajikistan: Photo: rferl.org
In February 2019, the Baptist community of Tajikistan was fined 4,000 somoni ($423), and the Customs Service destroyed 5,000 calendars seized from this organization at the Dushanbe airport.
Examination of the Ministry of Culture revealed the presence of another faith’s propaganda in these calendars. A Committee on Religious Affairs reported that the organization had not received prior permission to import calendars, and the number of the latter was much higher than the number of Baptist supporters in the country.
The Authorities Do Not See Problems
Law enforcement authorities of the Republic of Tajikistan did not express their official opinion on  the growing tension in society. However, religious organizations and structures that regulate these relations in the country, believe that the tolerance level of society has not decreased.
According to officials, the lack of clashes and conflicts between adherents of different religions shows the stability of religious tolerance in society.
However, Rustam Azizi, deputy director of the Center for Islamic Studies under the President of Tajikistan, asserts that the state has not yet registered a single case of conflict between supporters of different religions. According to him, Islam adherents are not rude to supporters of other religions, although they do not welcome them.
In Tajikistan, where the majority of population are Muslims, mostly Sunni, at the state and society level, there is caution, but not hostility towards supporters of other religions. It should be noted that the Sunni society is strongly tied to cultural traditions. Everything else, whether it is related to religion or culture, is not approved by people”, says Azizi.
Meanwhile, Jamoliddin Khomushov, a representative of the Ulemas Council of Tajikistan, says that the faith choice is free and every adult has the right to choose his religion.
According to him, the main problem is that recently, Tajik society has received information about Islam not from traditional Ulema, but from the Internet and satellite TV channels.
“In such conditions, the danger of extremist ideas spreading among the population is increasing and, thus, the level of religious tolerance may decrease”, Khomushov believes.
Therefore, he advised adherents of other confessions to try not to insult the values of Muslims, so as not to cause a hostile reaction.
“Insulting any values of Islam may lead to undesirable clashes in Tajik society”, Khomushov said.
Khodizoda: The Situation Is Similar to the Times of the USSR
Religious analyst Faridun Khodizoda argues that the decline in religious tolerance suggests that society is closed for discussion and does not want to accept the opinion of another.
The expert says that during the times of the Soviet Union, similarly, only the communist ideology was considered correct, and all other ideas were not accepted and were condemned.
The legislation of Tajikistan reserves punishment from five to eight years in prison for inciting national and religious hatred.
The largest manifestation of religious intolerance in recent years in Tajikistan was the killing of four foreign tourist. Photo: currenttime.tv
The largest manifestation of religious intolerance in recent years in Tajikistan was the killing of four foreign tourists in Dangara district in July 2018. The attack was carried out by five Tajik citizens who stated that they had taken the oath of allegiance to the IS (organization banned in Tajikistan and other countries of the region). A video is posted on the Internet which records the moment of taking the oath.
According to analysts, if intolerance in society will increase, the likelihood of a repetition of such terrorist acts will increase accordingly.
Saadi Yusufi, an expert on religious affairs, says that religious disputes between Muslims and non-Islamic faiths adherents do not present a particular danger if they occur only within the framework of an intellectual dispute.
However, according to Yusufi, threats to the stability in society are possible if these arguments go beyond disputes and social networks.
“There are no problems when someone doesn’t accept or express the opposite point of view, as long as it all happens at the level of intellectual dispute or in social networks. Problems arise when this issue spills onto markets and streets”, said Saadi Yusufi.

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