Staunton, October 19 – Earlier this year, Tajikistan President Emomali Rakhmon asked the parents of Tajiks studying in Islamic universities and medrassahs abroad to have them return to their homes. Now, underscoring Dushanbe’s nervousness the republic’s foreign minister has begun talks with the governments involved to enlist their aid in this effort.
Khamrokhon Zarifi, the foreign minister, told the Regnum.ru news agency that talks are now going on with these countries in the expectation that they will agree to return the young Tajik students so that they will not become, in Rakhmon’s words, “terrorists and extremists” (www.regnum.ru/news/fd-abroad/tajik/1337141.html).
According to the Tajik minister, the problem is a large one. At Cairo’s Al-Azhar University alone, for example, there are some700 Tajiks, all of whom are studying religious subjects like shariat law and theology rather than scientific or technical ones and 90 percent of whom are there illegally, at least from Dushanbe’s point of view (islamsng.com/tjk/news/301).
Indeed at his press conference, Zarifi said that “there is not a single one of our compatriots who is studying in the secular faculties of this higher educational institution which prepare engineers and doctors, although such people are very much needed in our country.” And consequently, Dushanbe wants them back.
According to the Tajik government, there are currently about 1400 Tajik young people studying in Islamic universities and medrassahs abroad, although the actual number is almost certainly far greater than that as many Tajiks, like students from other Muslim groups in the former Soviet space, often declare they are studying one place but then shift to another.
To date, the Tajik government, Foreign Minister Zarifi said, have been able to secure the return of “approximately 50,” an indication that Dushanbe faces an uphill battle unless foreign governments become actively involved, something that few, except for Iran – which has sent Tajiks home – appear all that interested in doing.
But Dushanbe’s efforts in this regard if they are successful may create three problems for the regime at home in addition to any difficulties it may have with its foreign interlocutors. First, because of mass unemployment in Tajikistan, many of those forced to return will be furious at the government and join militant groups seeking to overturn it.
Second, such half-trained Muslim adepts, history has shown, are far more likely to take a radical position than those who may be more fully exposed to Islamic doctrines, especially at places like Cairo’s Al-Azhar, and thus bring back with them exactly the opposite message that the Dushanbe government hopes for.
And third, if young Tajiks are precluded from getting an Islamic education abroad, then more of them are likely to demand Islamic education at home, something the authorities in Dushanbe say they favor but may be hard pressed to support, especially given that country’s economic difficulties at the present time.
But despite those difficulties, the governments of other post-Soviet states, many of whom have even more of their nationals studying at Islamic institutions abroad than does Tajikistan, are likely to follow Dushanbe’s lead. And that by itself makes what the Tajiks are doing even more important.