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

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

DurhamBath Spa600x200 Greenwich Aberystwythherts

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

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...

Cultures

'The British Isles' by Jamie Hawkesworth is a celebration of…

Development

A technique that uses bacteria to leach precious metals from…

Cultures

Hadani Ditmars explores the Iranian neighbourhoods of Vancouver, where the…

Development

Overshadowed by the uncertainty surrounding the Tokyo games, the Olympics…

Cultures

High in protein, antioxidants and requiring little space. What’s not…

Cultures

Snake wine is sold openly all over Southeast Asia but,…

Explorers

Going out into the world’s wildernesses or performing extraordinary feats…

I’m a Geographer

Chris Morgan is an ecologist and award-winning conservationist, educator, TV…

Global Health

The technology of mRNA-based vaccines – first approved for immunising…

People

The decades-long decline in hunger has now ended, despite the…

Explorers

Trapped at home in Vancouver during the pandemic, but with…

Cultures

The dramatic scenery of the Jurassic Coast and the fossils…

Global Health

With millions of lives at stake, scientists have accelerated research…

Explorers

Polar explorer Felicity Aston and her Icelandic husband took on…

Development

Pressure is mounting on steelmakers to decarbonise, but it’s proving…

Development

 Traditional methods of design and construction have led to a…