TAJIKISTAN: Crackdown On Dushanbe's Unregistered Mosques.

Igor Rotar and Vali Sairabekov, Keston News Service, 23 November 2001

As Muslims in Tajikistan mark the holy month of Ramadan, the city authorities in the capital Dushanbe are cracking down on unregistered mosques in line with a resolution adopted in September, Keston News Service has learnt. Muslims fear that the authorities will try to close down unregistered mosques, which far outnumber registered mosques in Dushanbe. A city official insisted to Keston that mosques must be registered in order to function and warned that unregistered mosques could become a meeting place for extremists.

Dushanbe city people's deputies adopted the resolution to identify and investigate unregistered religious organisations at their session on 19-20 September. "The need for such an investigation arose some time ago," the responsible official at the city administration, Aziz Kholmuradov, told Keston on 19 November. "Lately, several mosques have been built in the city and there are now more than 150 of them. However, most of these mosques are unregistered. We are concerned that supporters of radical Islam, particularly members of the banned Islamic party Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the Wahhabis, may gather in these mosques. Therefore, if believers want to meet in a mosque, they must first get it registered." (Wahhabis are followers of the purist brand of Islam followed in Saudi Arabia, but the term is often used more widely - sometimes incorrectly - by officials in Central Asia.)

However, in practice it is not simple to register a mosque. "Collecting the necessary documents has become a long and tortuous process," mullah Varif of Dushanbe's Mirvokoron mahalla (city neighbourhood) complained to Keston on 19 November. "Even if all the documents are collected, the district lawyers demand permission for registration from the Ministry of Justice, which in its turn states that it is not empowered to issue such a document."

However, Kholmuradov believes it is right that registering mosques should be difficult. "There are already nine registered mosques operating in the city: four serve the districts and five serve the mahallas - that number of mosques is perfectly sufficient. If the quantity of mosques grows, it will be more difficult for us to control their activity. Then mosques could become centres of extremism and could destabilise the situation in the republic." (END)