Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Tajikistan's strict control

Tajikistan's strict control Velirina
16 Mar
2016
The widely reported shaving of thousands of Muslim men in Tajikistan is the latest in a series of strict measures adopted by the country in recent years

Authorities in Tajikistan appear to espouse a great affection for secularism. Last year, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon announced his desire to create a ‘democratic and secular country based on the rule of law’, which must be ‘mainly focused on the development of secularism and national and secular thinking’. Such language follows the government taking an increasingly hard-line on various Islamic practises and symbolism across the country, with the independent Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reporting on the closure of hundreds of shops and stalls selling hijabs, the attempted regulation of ‘words, names, ideas, appearance, and clothing’, as well as, most recently, the forced shaving of nearly 13,000 men, whose beards were deemed ‘overly long and unkempt’. This is all supposedly part of combating any ‘foreign’ influences which don’t conform to Tajik values, in a country where the population is, however, overwhelmingly Muslim.

‘This is a secular nationalist project to control and co-opt religion,’ explains Dr John Heathershaw, Associate Professor in International Relations at the University of Exeter. ‘That doesn’t mean that religion is being pushed out completely, far from it. What’s really being struggled over is the control of religion in the public sphere. The government would declare itself to be consistent with Muslim values, but they have a very specific and limited idea of what that is.’

The main thing to be a good Muslim in Tajikistan is to do whatever the state tells you, and not begin to suggest that the regime may be itself morally corrupt

One of the government’s most high profile actions last year was the official revoking of the principal political opposition, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, claiming they no longer had broad enough support across the country to qualify as a national political party. ‘This decision represents a huge setback for human rights in Tajikistan,’ announced Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, at the time. ‘The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan’s very existence emerged out of a hard-earned 1997 peace agreement that put an end to the country’s bloody civil war. Shutting down the party is perilous for human rights, democratic participation, and stability in the country.’ This decision resulted in the country’s ‘political rights’ rating in the latest Freedom House ‘Freedom in the World’ report dropping to seven, the lowest possible level.

Heathershaw explains how the authorities in Tajikistan use exaggerated fears of religious extremism to justify the extermination of any expressions which fall outside of their control. ‘This is an authoritarian government,’ he continues, ‘that’s how best to understand what’s going on. What is of concern to the regime is any unofficial expression of Islamic practice. The main thing to be a good Muslim in Tajikistan is to be supine, to do whatever the state tells you, to not rebel or speak out in any way, and not begin to suggest that the regime may be itself morally corrupt. That’s their fear, and that’s therefore why they crack down.’

This was published in the March 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

Related items

Subscribe to Geographical!

Geographical Week

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

University of Winchester

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PEOPLE...

Development

The ‘golden triangle’ switches from growing opium crops to coffee

I’m a Geographer

Fearghal O’Nuallain is a geography teacher and explorer. His edited…

Explorers

In the Indonesian archipelago of Raja Ampat, new measures to…

Cultures

The small southern African nation of Eswatini has a rich…

Development

Many countries that are classified as being ‘not high income’…

Development

As part of our monthly series of reports looking at…

Explorers

Fifty years since the great Blue Nile was first traversed,…

Explorers

When author Lydia Syson set a historical novel on a…

Development

A new vaccination strategy aims to eradicate peste de petits…

Development

Over 100 years have passed since São Tomé could claim…

Cultures

As one of the biggest displays of Caribbean culture in…

Development

After 130 years in the diamond industry De Beers recently…

Explorers

From Calcutta to the Himalayas, in The Last Englishmen, author…

Development

As part of our monthly series of reports looking at…

Development

Using WhatsApp to monitor and predict deadly landslides in Colombian…

Explorers

During her time in Ghana, Sarah Begum experienced the lives…

Development

An investigation reveals how the illegal export of talc, used…

Cultures

Land rights for the indigenous are still a problem, but…

Development

New statistics suggest rising healthy lifespans in China, at the…