TAJIKISTAN: How does a government crack down on Islam when more than 90% of its population is Muslim?

tajikistanIn the ongoing battle of Tajikistan vs Islam, Islam seems to be losing, as the government has forced Muslim men to shave their beards, banned schoolgirls from wearing headbags, barred minors from mosques, shut down independent mosques, and forced thousands of students to return home from Islamic schools abroad, in a bid to stamp out Islamic extremism. 

Now, they are going after Arabic-sounding names.


Tribune  Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon has repeatedly called for the strengthening of secular principles in the mostly Muslim country of 8.5 million. Videos portraying Tajik IS militants calling for jihad against the central government have emerged recently in the central Asian country, which has experienced something of a security vacuum dating back to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In what is seen as an extension in an anti-Islam campaign, Tajikistan is deliberating on a legislation that, if passed, would see ‘Arabic-sounding’ names for newborns banned in the Muslim-majority country. The drive has already resulted in men being forced to shave their beards and women who wear hijab being labeled as prostitutes. And new regulations are being considered about whom can travel to Mecca on hajj.


As in the other former Soviet republics of Central Asia, the government of Tajikistan is fiercely secular while the people are mostly Muslim. Interfax reported that the CRA said in a press conference that only people over the age of 35 would be among those permitted to perform the annual pilgrimage (hajj) to the Islamic holy sites at Medina and Mecca this year

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has now directed his parliament to consider a bill that would restrain registration of names which are deemed to be ‘too Arabic’, said an official of the Ministry of Justice, Civil Registry department.

Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon has instructed the country's Parliament to consider a bill that would ban Muslim-sounding names in the former Soviet republic
Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon has instructed the country’s Parliament to consider a bill that would ban Muslim-sounding names in the former Soviet republic

Official Jaloliddin Rahimov said, “After the adoption of these regulations, the registry offices will not register names that are ‘incorrect’ or ‘alien’ to the local culture, including names denoting objects, flora and fauna, as well as names of Arabic origin”. The move, however, may not remain confined to names of those born after the bill is passed. Some parliamentarian have reportedly demanded that citizens who have names that sound ‘Arabic’ should change them to ‘Tajik-sounding’ ones.

Grand Masjid, Dushanbe
Grand Masjid, Dushanbe

Islam is the largest religion in the country with over 90% of the population Muslim. The secular government has been worried by what it perceives as rise of Islam in unprivileged and poverty-hit villages which it claims are fast becoming fertile grounds for militancy.


The Diplomat Until last month’s parliamentary elections, when the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) Tajikistan was the only Central Asian state in which political Islam had representation. But in recent elections, IRPT lost all of its seats in government and the country’s official religious bodies have called for the IRPT to be banned, and some have suggested it should be labeled a terrorist organization.

The tightening grip of the state on Islam extends beyond politics. The State Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA) is responsible for overseeing and implementing laws relating to religion–including registration of religious groups, regulation of imports of religious materials, and oversight of mosques and churches. The Council of Ulema guides the Tajik Muslim community and while nominally independent, presents a state-approved version of Islam.


The hijab has long been banned in schools, universities, and governmental offices. Now it seems the Islamic veil will not see the light of day, despite the fact custom dictates it is more important for women to wear it outside than inside.

Global Voices  Pressure on hijab-wearers began almost immediately after President Emomali Rahmon congratulated Tajik women on the occasion of Mothers’ Day (Tajikistan’s version of International Women’s Day) and called on them to wear colourful national dress rather than dark “foreign” clothes.


The Tajik authorities accepted the signal. Soon after the speech, Tajik state TV made an improbable link between wearing the hijab and prostitution, while the Mayor of the country’s capital city Dushanbe issued an order for municipal authorities to dissuade women from ‘extremism’.  The Mayor of the second largest city, Khujand, demanded that the sale of “Iranian and Afghan” clothes be prevented, leading to inspections of shops selling Islamic clothing by police and tax officials.


Now public eateries will be forced to sell alcoholic drinks. Recently, owners of some eateries say that authorities are forcing them to sell alcohol too and encourage customers to buy and drink it, in order to meet the tax plan. They were told that the state budget was being damaged because of the increase in the number of those who pray, and the decrease in the number of those who drink….