In Authoritarian Tajikistan, New Fatwa Condemns Criticism as “Sin”
Tajikistan’s state-appointed chief mufti has warned that cooperating with journalists or others who intend to “destabilize” the country, or criticizing the authoritarian government to such people, constitutes a “grave sin,” local media report.
The fatwa, according to AFP, includes any “criticism of the ruling powers.” "Criticism undermines trust in the authorities," warned Mufti Saidmukarram Abdulkodirzoda at Friday prayers in Dushanbe.
Abdulkodirzoda did not specify how Muslims are to identify the potentially perfidious reporters, or if they should avoid speaking with the media altogether, but journalists such as prominent editor Marat Mamadshoev said the fatwa is just the latest attack on their rights in the officially secular country.
Lawyer and opposition activist Rahmatillo Zoirov told Radio Ozodi that the fatwa would undermine laws on the freedom of the press (which officials often ignore) and that the clergy “has no right to interfere in the affairs of state.”
Moderate Muslims, including the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party, have also denounced the injunction, according to AFP.
It is not unusual, of course, for a leader to use his people's faith to enforce fealty. In Russia, where Tajik leaders look for inspiration, the Orthodox Church has become the moral mouthpiece for Vladimir Putin’s reign.
Tajikistan has also imitated the Kremlin’s anti-Western rhetoric in recent months, blaming outsiders, particularly foreigners, for phantom plots in apparent attempts to distract from officials’ shortcomings.
Yet in Tajikistan, Emomali Rakhmon’s government has an ambivalent relationship with Islam: Perpetually alarmed by its growing influence, the authorities persecute Muslims who do not obey Rakhmon’s handpicked clergy—from arresting dozens on what often appear to be trumped-up terrorism charges to forcing men to shave their beards.
The mufti’s order on criticizing the state comes amid concerns that young men are being drawn to fight alongside radicals in Syria. If the government’s more heavy-handed policies can look as if they were designed to nudge young men into the militants’ arms, the latest fatwa promises less ominous consequences.
One Dushanbe resident, asked for his opinion, said the vast majority would just ignore it, as they generally ignore the official clergy’s pronouncements.
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.