Police in Tajikistan have taken to drawing up lists of women known to wear the hijab in a fresh measure to combat signs of what they perceive as excess Islamic piety.
Asia-Plus news last week cited the head of police in the northern city of Khujand, Emin Jalilov, as saying that raids have been mounted in markets with the aim of maintaining security and upholding national customs. That translates in practical terms to clamping down on any clothing deemed suggestive of radical Islamic beliefs.
“During raids we found that at 38 retail points in the city there were saleswomen wearing (veils),” Jalilov said.
Jalilov noted with regret that many bazaar directors are failing to clamp down on the phenomenon.
“At the moment, the city police has a list of 643 women that wear the hijab. Of those, 513 are residents of the city. These neighborhoods are under the close supervision of the police,” he said.
Authorities are always eager to stress that the threat is not hypothetical but real.
As Jalilov noted, 30 residents of Khujand have been detained on suspicion of associating with radical and terrorist Islamic groups so far this year. At least 245 members of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir group and 226 followers of the Salafi movement have been recorded in Khujand, he said. Most of those have received criminal sentences of some kind.
These figures are of questionable value, however, given how arbitrarily police and courts assign membership status in underground groups to anybody they deem even mildly suspicious. True membership or affiliation figures may be much smaller, or for that matter, much greater.
In its latest annual report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom provides a detailed portrait of the steady decline of religious freedoms in Tajikistan, including of its impact on women.
“Between 2004 and 2014, the Council of Ulema banned women from attending mosques. In 2014, it said it would allow women to attend mosques and female students at religious schools to become imam-hatibs (imams’ assistants) to work with females at mosques with women-only sections,” noted the report, which is well worth reading in full.
Capillary policing in the community is set to be intensified in the coming weeks as Tajikistan prepares to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its independence. The Interior Ministry warned in a statement earlier this month that it plans to introduce what it calls a “passport regime.” Police will go from door to door to check on who is in possession of a propiska, the Soviet-devised document authorizing citizens to live in given locations.