Staunton, August 26 – The number of Muslims from Tajikistan studying in Islamic institutions abroad is increasing, a sharp contrast to the trend in other post-Soviet states, and that has prompted Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon to urge their parents to call them home with a promise that Dushanbe will provide them with religious training inside the country.
Faridun Khodizoda, a specialist on religion in Tajikistan, told Ferghana.ru that “in recent years, the number of young people travelling to Islamic countries for instruction has increased” throughout the country. Officially, in Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, there are 500 young Tajiks, but “unofficially, there are more than 2000” (http://www.ferghana.ru/article.php?id=6699).
In addition to that contingent, he said, there are also “a large number” of Tajiks in Islamic schools in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan. Many of these Muslim students are in these countries illegally, and some have been sent home either by the host countries or by countries like Afghanistan through which they were travelling on their way to school.
This trend is clearly worrying the Tajik authorities, and this week, President Rakhmon called on parents “to recall their children who are studying in medrassahs in Islamic countries. He told a local audience that “unfortunately, the majority of them are not learning to be mullahs but are becoming terrorists and extremists.”
“It is therefore necessary that all of them return lest they all become traitors and betrayers of the motherland,” the president said, adding pointedly that “the powers that be have complete information about all students who are studying abroad in medrassahs and also about their parents.”
The Tajik president said that Dushanbe is currently conducting talks with the authorities in several Islamic countries in order to enlist their help in return Tajik students in their medrassahs, although he did not name these countries or indicate that any of them had agreed to help.
Rakhmon said that those who return and who genuinely want to become mullahs can enroll in the State Islamic Institute. “If it becomes necessary, then the [Tajik State] Committee on Religious Affairs will send to foreign medrassahs just as many young people as our country needs.”
And “it will send them only to those educational centers where there is moderation and where they will not be instructed in all kinds of terrorist and extremist trends,” something that he said is especially important now because the country faces the threat of Islamist radicalism in many places.
Rakhmon has already given orders to the country’s special services and local governments, he said, “to more actively control the activity of all mosques in order not to allow the distribution of extremist views among believers. And he has defined as extremist all Muslims who do not follow Tajikistan’s traditional Sunni Hanafi school.
Kobildzhon Boyev, the head of the fetwa department of the Ulema Council of the Islamic center of Tajikistan, supports the president in this, Ferghana.ru reports. Boyev said he very much regrets that “many young people are returning after studies in Islamic countries with different views on Islam.”
“Things have reached the point,” he said, “that in one family the father follows the Hanafi school, his son becomes a Salafite, and his brother a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir.” That must end, Boyev continued, before “out of disagreements on questions of the faith, brothers may attack brothers.”
Khikmatullo Sayfullozoda, a leader of the Party of the Islamic Rebirth of Tajikistan, however, disagreed. “It is wrong to describe all Islamic educational centers abroad as terrorist and extremist,” he said, and it is equally incorrect to assert that the Hanafi school is the only one found in Tajikistan, even though the government has banned many of them.
Khodizoda, the Dushanbe religious specialist, added that Rakhmon’s appeal is unlikely to succeed. Most of those studying abroad, he pointed out, are of an age when they will hardly be prepared to listen to their parents. And most of them “are not satisfied with the level of religious education in Tajikistan,” where there are few textbooks and instructors in this area.
Another religious specialist, Farrukh Umarov, said that Rakhmon is correct that at least part of the Tajik young people studying abroad are falling “under the influence of various trends.” But most are going simply abroad because education in Tajikistan is corrupt and costly, and many foreign schools are prepared to give them free tuition, room and board.
Khodizoda pointed out that Tajiks going abroad to study typically move first to Russia as gastarbetiers and then go on to Islamic countries. Consequently, “it will be very complicated to get all of them to return or simply prohibit them [or others like them] from going abroad” to such medrassahs.
He added that as a result, the situation with regard to Islamic radicalism in Tajikistan is likely to get worse regardless of what Rakhmon and the government do. And other experts in that country speculate that Rakhmon won’t go beyond words lest he offend Islamic countries from which he hopes to get investments for his own.