Tajikistan’s State Islamophobia Spawns Hijab-Permit Scam
Someone is profiting from Tajikistan’s official Islamophobia, peddling expensive permits purporting to allow observant Muslims to wear a beard or hijab – fashions that are officially discouraged. The permits, adorned with an official-looking stamp, allegedly go for 250 somoni (about $40) each.
In recent weeks, Tajikistan’s secular government has turned up its routine hysteria about the spread of Islamic practice, with state media dutifully declaring that prostitutes wear hijab – a headscarf and modest clothing for women – to drive up their rates, and police reportedly nabbing bearded men on the street and forcing them under the razor. The campaign seems to be part of an effort to liken any Islam outside of state control to terrorism.
The State Committee on Religious Affairs – the body that oversees mosques, appoints all imams, and tells them what to say during their Friday sermons – says the idea of such permits is “absurd,” the Asia-Plus news agency reported April 24. No one has the right to issue such documents, the State Committee said in a statement.
But gullibility is understandable. Anyone can see that freedom in practicing Islam is under assault in Tajikistan and, meanwhile, the government has allowed very few trustworthy sources of information on religious affairs.
The Friday sermon, for example, has been perverted for political purposes. Just before the flawed March parliamentary vote, imams under government orders instructed the pious to vote for long-serving strongman President Emomali Rahmon’s party. Shortly after the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party was booted from parliament in the vote, imams told congregants to demand the moderate party be banned.
Last year Tajikistan’s chief cleric, who is appointed by the state, issued an edict banning criticism of the government.
Children remain forbidden, under a 2011 law, from entering mosques. This month, the government declared that anyone under age 35 is not allowed to go on hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage. All this appears part of a campaign to keep young people from getting near independent Islam.
As usual, mass arrests of suspected radicals continue, with authorities accusing some who independently practice Islam of links to foreign terrorist groups. Their trials are closed, and arbitrary arrests and beatings to extract confessions are common.
In this environment, money-grubbing scammers are hardly the worst kinds of parasites likely to prey on frustrated Muslims looking for ways to express their beliefs.
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.