TAJIKISTAN: Muslims Weep as 'Unapproved' Mosques Are Demolished.

Igor Rotar and Aziz Seidulin, Keston News Service, 18 March 2002

In the wake of a decision by the mayor of Dushanbe at the end of January that "unapproved" mosques in the Tajik capital be demolished, the process of demolishing such mosques has begun. Keston News Service witnessed the demolition in February of three mosques in the Frunze district of Dushanbe, which had been built in violation of the city plan. A crowd of some 100 Muslims gathered to watch the demolition and some of them wept. More than 100 mosques in the city without state registration appear to be threatened. Muslim leaders have complained about how difficult it is to get new or existing mosques registered.

On 30 January Dushanbe's mayor, Mahammadsaid Ubaidulloev, chaired a meeting of the leadership of the city administration devoted to a review of the work of all the city's services over the past year, at which Keston was present. As well as the leaders of the city's services, representatives of the clergy from Dushanbe and elsewhere in the republic were also invited. The mayor sharply criticised the activity of Hizb-ut-Tahrir (the international Islamic organisation, banned in Tajikistan, which calls for the unification of all Muslims worldwide into a single caliphate) and urged that "this evil be pulled up by the roots from Tajik land". He said that every day several activists and propagandists of this party are picked up by the law-enforcement agencies.

Ubaidulloev spoke out sharply against the unofficial operation of over 120 mosques in Dushanbe. "The number of mosques is already greater than the number of schools in the capital," he complained. "As of today the doors of all unregistered mosques should be sealed and together with other unapproved constructions they are subject to demolition if they do not meet the requirements of the city planning department."

In reply Mullah Faizullo, the imam-hatyb of Dushanbe's Sari Osie central mosque, said that it was very difficult to register a mosque as the authorities engage in deliberate delay. Mullah Faizullo said that the process of registering a mosque often drags on for years and urged the city authorities to provide support for the building of mosques. Ubaidulloev replied that the decision to demolish unapproved constructions had already been taken and nobody would be shown any indulgence.

Ubaidulloev's decision means in effect that of 120 mosques only the seventeen which are registered will continue to operate.

Muhiddin Kabiri, deputy chairman of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, told Keston by telephone from Dushanbe on 15 March that he was not surprised by the mayor's decision. "About three weeks ago at a demographic conference Tajik president Emomali Rahmonov already drew public attention to the fact that the number of mosques in the republic was close to the number of schools, which he said was not acceptable in a secular state." He claimed that under Tajik law unregistered mosques cannot function. "The law is the law and we must submit to it. It's another matter that indeed the registration of mosques often becomes a prolonged bureaucratic procedure."

Despite his claims, Tajik law does not specifically ban the functioning of unregistered places of worship - although state officials often pretend that it does. (END)