Tajikistan Celebrates Giant Mosque Groundbreaking for Second Time
Officials in Tajikistan have been promising to build Central Asia’s biggest mosque for years, celebrating each step as if they had already set another Guinness record. Yesterday, they finally broke ground. For the second time, that is. President Emomali Rakhmon laid a foundation stone back in 2009, the BBC reported at the time, when the project was expected to take five years.The mosque in the Tajik capital will accommodate 115,000 worshippers, according to press reports, and cost $100 million. Dushanbe will pay $30 million; the rest is financed by Qatar.Part of a large Qatari development that will include luxury-housing towers, Dushanbe’s chattering classes suspect the grand mosque is a sweetener that has allowed the Qataris to proceed with their other building plans. Dushanbe’s luxury building boom, which has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, has done little to alleviate rapidly rising housing prices, RFE/RL reported recently. Of course, many in Tajikistan, where roughly half the working-age male population travels abroad seeking employment, are asking if the government might not kick a little more cash into social services, rather than more architectural bling. Dushanbe has steadily cracked down on religious freedom in recent years, forbidding Tajik youths from studying Islam abroad, forcing men to shave their beards and banning children from attending worship services -- all efforts, officials say, to combat extremism. So there is one advantage of this project, at least for the overstretched security services: One giant mosque -- even if it is mostly empty without the boys, and with so many men off in Russia -- would make it easier to monitor the growing legions of Tajikistan’s Muslims.