More than 300 makeshift mosques have been closed recently by authorities in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, with some of those sites subsequently turned into beauty salons or police offices. These and other clampdowns follow a government ban on Islamic head scarves — hejab — in schools, compulsory tests for clerics, and a ban on the fundamentalist Mavlavi religious group.
Government scrutiny of mosques and religious activities has intensified all over the predominantly Muslim republic of Tajikistan.
Authorities in the northern Sughd region have set deadlines for the operators of 350 mosques to get proper licenses or face closure.
In the eastern Vanj district, authorities have banned the fundamentalist Mavlavi Islamic group, whose practitioners have been accused of harassing locals.
Officials in the southern town of Kurgon-teppa have ordered 13 mosques there to present their registration documents to local prosecutors for checking.
“The authorities are worried about the fact that many people gather every evening in mosques. Because when so many people — from different parts of society — get together regularly, it is impossible [to imagine] that they would never discuss the country’s political, social, and economic issues.”Kalandar Sadriddinov, an imam in a Kurgon-teppa mosque, told RFE/RL’s Tajik Service that authorities have introduced a complicated procedure to register mosques. He said operators must get official permission from many offices — from the fire department to environmental authorities — before even applying for registration.
“We have to get permission from 12 agencies,” said Sadriddinov. “And people in those agencies get suspicious and nervous as soon as you mention ‘mosque registration.'”
Sadriddinov said it took him more than seven months to finally register his mosque.
More than 300 unregistered mosques have been closed down in Dushanbe in the past two months.
The city mayor’s office says some of the old makeshift mosques will house hair salons, public baths, or community centers. The office says that there are just 57 registered mosques in the city, which has well over 500,000 inhabitants.
At least two of the unregistered mosque locations have been destroyed.
The mosque destructions were followed in late August by compulsory testing for clerics which resulted in the expulsion of at least four imams who failed to pass the written exams.
Some prominent religious leaders in Tajikistan have criticized the official measures as “anti-Islamic,” and warned they could bring public discontent and unpredicted consequences.