TAJIKISTAN: Madrasa still closed; state registration to be compulsory?
Pulat Nurov, the Islamic affairs specialist of the state Religious Affairs Committee, has told Forum 18 News Service that, in a planned new religion law, "it will clearly be stated that registration of religious organisations is compulsory." If this proves to be the case, Tajikistan will join Belarus, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in breaking international human rights obligations by making state registration compulsory. Nurov was speaking to Forum 18 about "inconsistencies" in the current 1994 Religion Law in relation to the continued closure of an Islamic religious school in northern Tajikistan. This madrasa is being barred from operation by the authorities, even though there is no legal basis for the government to do this. Nurov admitted to Forum 18 that registration of the madrasa is not compulsory and that no existing state agency can control the teaching of Islam. "These are the annoying defects of the Religion Law adopted back in 1994," he complained.
The authorities closed the Chorku madrasa after a visit to Isfara in July 2002 by Tajik President Emomali Rahmonov, who announced at the time that three Isfara natives who had fought in Afghanistan with the Taliban were prisoners at the American base in Guantanamo Bay (see F18News 31 July 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=118).
The head of the District Administration, Mukhiba Yakubova, admitting that the madrasa was still closed, told Forum 18 that "the teachers do not hold a teaching licence from the Muslim Spiritual Administration," speaking on 1 March in Isfara. "There is some doubt over whether they are sufficiently qualified." She said that the government's Religious Affairs Committee is currently considering the issue of the Chorku madrasa.
In the town of Khujand, the administrative centre of Sugd region 150 kilometres (95 miles) to the west of Isfara, the authorities ordered the removal of four local imams last December, citing the same reason (see F18News 7 March 2006 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=739).
Article 5 of the Religion Law does require that "people who teach religious beliefs must have permission from the appropriate spiritual administration". However, in 1994 the Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Tajikistan was disbanded because the leaders of this agency had taken an active role in the civil war on the side of the opposition. The government later handed the Administration's former powers to the Council of Ulems, though the Council in practice does the government's bidding (see F18News 16 February 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=253).
Therefore, currently every mosque and madrasa is an independent agency – there is simply no-one qualified to issue them with a licence to teach Islam (see F18News 7 March 2006 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=739).
Abdusator Boboyev, head of the Isfara branch of the Islamic Revival Party (IRP), told Forum 18 that "this madrasa is as vital to us as the air we breathe," he told Forum 18 News Service on 1 March in Isfara. "The people in our district are very devout, and the madrasa in Chorku was effectively the only place where believers could find out about Islam." The IRP is the only legal overtly Islamic party in Central Asia.
Boboyev also said that, in December 2005, Muslim believers completed construction of a large new mosque in Isfara, which they had paid for, but the authorities had prevented it from opening.
Yakubova of the District Administration said that the documents required for the registration of the new mosque in Isfara were also with the Religious Affairs Committee. "We have been asked for a letter stating that we have no objection to the opening of the new mosque. We have written that letter. I believe that the Regional Justice Administration will soon register the new Isfara mosque. Until that has happened, we are indeed preventing believers from meeting there," Yakubova told Forum 18. However, under the Religion Law, registration of the mosque is not compulsory.
Pulat Nurov, the Islamic affairs specialist at the Religious Affairs Committee, insisted to Forum 18 that the Chorku madrasa had been closed not only because its teachers did not have licences to teach. "It was established that several of them were members of the Islamic Revival Party," he told Forum 18 from Dushanbe on 10 March. "Article 4 of our Law on Political Parties states that political parties and their members do not have the right to make use of religious organisations in their work." He said the question of the Chorku madrasa would be resolved after the country has adopted its planned new law on religion.
Nurov admitted that under the current Religion Law registration is not compulsory. He also admitted that there is no Muslim Spiritual Administration and therefore there is no-one from whom those teaching Islam can receive permission. "These are the annoying defects of the Religion Law adopted back in 1994," he complained to Forum 18. "These inaccuracies lead to such exceptional juridical cases."
He said that a new religion law will soon be adopted where these "inconsistencies" would be eliminated. "In the new law for example it will clearly be stated that registration of religious organisations is compulsory." If this is indeed the case, Tajikistan will join Belarus, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in breaking international human rights obligations by making state registration compulsory.
For more background see Forum 18's religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=190
A printer-friendly map of Tajikistan is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=tajiki
7 March 2006
Local schoolgirls who refuse to attend lessons without a hijab (Islamic headscarf) risk being denied their school-leavers' certificates (as happened to at least 23 last summer), while four imams were removed from local mosques in late December on government orders, human rights activist Islom Pokosov complained to Forum 18 News Service in Khujand in northern Tajikistan. He said policy towards Muslims in his region had grown harsher in the past six months. Local religious affairs official Abduhakim Sharipov admitted the denial of school-leaver's certificates, but insisted to Forum 18 that children had to abide by school uniform regulations. He said the imams had been sacked for teaching in mosques without a licence from the Muslim Spiritual Administration after the Religious Affairs Committee had discovered these "abuses of authority" during check-ups of the region's mosques. Officially, religious communities are separate from the state, so it remains unclear on what basis the Committee conducted the verification and ordered the imams' removal.
22 February 2006
Between 7 and 20 February, the city authorities demolished the ritual bathhouse, classroom and kosher butchery of the synagogue in Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe. The only functioning synagogue in Tajikistan, it was built by local Jews a century ago. When a congregation member filmed the destruction officials threatened to break his video-camera, a local resident told Forum 18 News Service. The demolition of the synagogue itself – part of city redevelopment plans – is due to be completed in June, though some fear it could happen sooner. "It is a lie to say that the Dushanbe Jews paid for construction of the synagogue," Shamsuddin Nuriddinov of the city's Religious Affairs Department insisted to Forum 18. "So, if the Jews want to have a synagogue, let them pay for it out of their own funds." The Jewish community – mainly made up of Bukharan Jews – is mostly elderly and poor and cannot afford to build a new synagogue.
17 February 2006
The recent murder of an ethnic Kyrgyz convert to Christianity, Saktinbai Usmanov, was the culmination of a long series of intolerant incidents, Forum 18 News Service has found. Usmanov was the only Christian in his village. The intolerance was encouraged by the village Mullah, Nurlan Asangojaev, although most of the attackers were themselves drunk, which is forbidden in Islam. Asangojaev arranged for Usmanov to be banned from community events after his conversion, which is very painful for the traditionally community-centred Kyrgyz. He has also barred Usmanov from being buried in the village cemetery. Mullah Asangojaev has since Usmanov's murder told Forum 18 and others that "I can't offer any convincing proof, but I am sure that Saktinbai was killed by Protestants because he wanted to return to Islam." This is strongly denied by Saktinbai Usmanov's son, Protestant Pastor Ruslan Usmanov, who told Forum 18 that this is a "monstrous slander." There are numerous incidents of intolerance, including official hostility, towards Christian converts from Muslim backgrounds throughout Central Asia, Forum 18 has found.