Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tajikistan: Tajik Fatwa Misfires

This article originally appeared in the Institute for War and Peace Reporting,

Tajik Fatwa Misfires

Top clerics say it’s just about extremism, others see it as unwarranted political interference.

By Mehrangez Tursunzoda - Central Asia  

Muslim leaders in Tajikistan have caused controversy with a decree that appeared to condemn critics of the government, although they have since told IWPR that their only concern is to stem the flow of Islamic extremist propaganda.

The fatwa was first read out at Friday prayers on September 26 by Tajikistan’s top Muslim cleric or mufti, Saidmukkaram Abduqodirzoda. Its main thrust was to make it a sin to fight against fellow-Muslims at home or abroad – a clear reference to Syria, where Tajiks nationals are known to be fighting with the Islamic State group.

In a magazine interview on October 15, Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda said that around 200 Tajikistan nationals were known to be fighting with rebel forces. Another 50 had been reported killed, and dozens were facing criminal charges.

The decree caused controversy because as well as forbidding Muslims from sowing division and undermining national stability, it also said they must not cooperate with political parties and other groups – local or foreign – or the media to that end.

To some commentators, this looked like more a proclamation of loyalty to President Imomali Rahmon and hostility to his opponents than a theological pronouncement.

Religious affairs expert Saidahmad Kalandarov told IWPR that although the clerical council was formally independent from the secular state, it was in practice close to government. He suspected the fatwa was written for state officials and at their behest.

“I think it was driven by a desire to please the authorities ahead of the [February 2015 parliamentary] election, because there are a lot of things happening in the opposition inside the country that trouble them,” Kalandarov said.

He referred to groups like the Islamic Rebirth Party, the only opposition force now represented in parliament. The party has complained of mounting pressure from officials in recent months. (See Tajikistan's Islamic Opposition Under Pressure.) .

Dushanbe-based political analyst Parviz Mullojanov agreed with Kalandarov, saying “I doubt the [mufti] could take a public stance on such matters independently, without consulting high-ranking officials.”

Hikmatulo Saifullozoda, a leading member of the Islamic Rebirth Party, criticised the issuing of fatwas on behalf of government.

“The powers of the Council of Ulema should not go beyond matters relating to Islamic law and faith,” he said.

Saifullozoda said that while there was a lot of criticism of President Rahmon’s rule on social networking sites and other media, it was all taking place outside Tajikistan among émigrés with no plans to return. At home, people were cowed by fear and apathy.

“The view that Tajikistan might face something similar to what happened in some Arab countries is a long way from reality,” Saifullozoda said.

Mufti Abduqodirzoda told IWPR that the fatwa was not meant as a warning to any organisation in Tajikistan, as had been suggested. Instead, it was simply an exhortation for people to avoid “intrigues and acts of provocation”.

“Just look how acts of provocation led to the destruction of well-developed countries like Ukraine, Syria and Libya,” he said. “Doesn’t the Council of Ulema… have a right to care for people and warn them through precautionary measures? It does have that right.”

Solehjon Zavkiev, head of the department for religious organisations within government committee that oversees religious affairs, told IWPR said that the fatwa was a purely clerical statement addressed to Muslims.

“This fatwa has got nothing to do with interference in politics”, he said. Asked about the specific warning against engaging with the media, he said, “The media to which the mufti referred are those that spread leaflets and openly call for jihad.”
Mehrangez Tursunzoda is an IWPR contributor in Tajikistan.