Vienna, September 1 – Tajikistan, one of the poorest post-Soviet countries and the victim of a bloody civil war in the 1990s, is now headed toward “the total Islamization of society,” a trend that will negatively affect its neighbors in Central Asia and Russia’s security, given the large number of Tajik gastarbeiters in Russian cities, according to a Moscow analyst.
In an article on the Strategic Culture Foundation portal, Aleksandr Shustov says that this trend is one that should be of enormous concern to the Russian powers that be because nearly a million Tajiks are now in Russia and will bring with them many of the Islamist values now being propagated in their homeland (www.fondsk.ru/article.php?id=3237).
At the present time, he continues, Tajikistan has 27 central mosques, 325 cathedral mosques and 3,334 Friday mosques – or one for every 2,000 residents of that country, a level of Islamic penetration far greater than in other Muslim states in the post-Soviet region and one that is not being countered by the presence of ethnic Russians who have largely departed.
(In 1989, Shustov says, there were 388,500 ethnic Russians in Tajikistan, and they, together with other “European” nations formed nearly 500,000 or 12 percent of the total. Today, the number of ethnic Russians remaining “does not exceed 50,000, less than one percent of the population. [And] many of them are pensioners.”)
Islam, both traditional and radical, have long been strong in Tajikistan, the Moscow analyst continues, but first the efforts of Dushanbe to build authority by making concessions to Islam after the civil war and then the unsuccessful attempts to construct a secular “Aryan” identity have combined to increase all forms of Islamic activity, the Moscow analyst says.
Over the last two years, he writes, the Tajik authorities have tried and convicted several hundred Islamic activists, including members of the radical Jamoat Tabliq, many of whose leaders had received training in the medrassahs of Indonesia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates.
The Jamoat Tabliq has Salafi Jihadist goals. It wants to lead all Muslims back to “the true Islam” and ultimately secure “the Islamization of the entire planet.” At the present time, Shustov continues, there are “according to various assessments, “about five to six thousand” of the followers of this movement in Tajikistan.
In order to fight the radical Islamists, the government has sought to promote the growth of traditional Hanafi Islam. It has simplified the registration procedures for mosques and prayer houses, leading to an explosion in the number of the two to 364 during the first eight months of this year.
Moreover, Dushanbe has approved the Saudi-financed construction of the largest mosque in Central Asia and the opening of a new building of the local Islamic University. And it has not cracked down on the often radical messages of the 19 officially permitted medrassahs or gone after the approximately 200,000, often radical Ismailis.
As a result, Shustov says, “Islam is becoming an ever more significant factor in the social-political life of Tajikistan,” as the powers that be there seek to counter the rise of Islamism by the promotion of traditional Islam only to discover that the country and its social life are becoming ever more Islamic as a result.
That might not matter to Russia except for the following considerations, the Moscow analyst says. On the one hand, what is taking place in Tajikistan is already affecting its neighbors in Central Asia, including Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in particular, where Islamism is also growing.
And on the other, because the number of Tajik gastarbeiters in the Russian Federation is so large, their Islamization is leading to “the penetration” into Russian territory of an ideology that could easily infect many of that country’s more than 20 million Muslims, a development that Moscow would find it increasingly difficult to contain.