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TAJIKISTAN. An independent state in Central Asia as of December 1991, Tajikistan was formerly a constituent republic of the Soviet Union. In the nineteenth century the area was divided between the emirate of Bukhara and the khanate of Kokand; in the late nineteenth century, Kokand was annexed by the Russian Empire.

By the beginning of the 1990s, the overwhelming majority of Tajikistan’s population of more than five million belonged to nationalities that were historically Muslim. Tajiks (and eastern Iranian peoples counted as Tajiks in Soviet censuses) comprised roughly 6o percent of the population, Uzbeks more than 20 percent, and Tatars, Kirghizes, and Turkmens each less than five percent. The remainder of the population was comprised of historically non-Muslim nationalities. A large majority of the Muslim peoples of Tajikistan are Sunni and follow the Hanafi school of law. A small minority is traditionally Isma’ili Shi`i; it includes certain eastern Iranian peoples and some Tajiks living in the mountainous southeast of the republic in Badakhshan. Sufism, especially the Naqshbandiyah order, has strong historic roots in Tajikistan and adjoining republics, especially in the Ferghana valley.

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most Muslims in what later became Tajikistan continued to practice their faith as they had traditionally done. Mosques, maktabs, madrasahs, and popularly venerated holy places were numerous. There was a high degree of conformity with the standard obligations of Islamic observance.

Despite major changes during the Soviet era, there was significant continuity in the practice of Islam in Tajikistan. Except for a period of relative tolerance in the early and mid-1920s, the Soviet regime sharply restricted the practice of Islam, and, under Stalin and Khrushchev, launched campaigns to destroy it along with other religions. Religious figures were arrested, religious books destroyed, religious schools abolished, and religious instruction of minors made a crime. Mosques and other holy places were closed, converted to secular use, or allowed to fall into ruin. The number of legally recognized religious figures (the “official clergy” in Soviet parlance) was limited to far too few to meet the needs of the Muslim population. By 1989 Tajikistan had only seventeen legally registered Muslim congregations.

Tajikistani Muslims adapted by drawing on the traditional practices of ordinary believers from pre-Soviet times. Religious instruction of children continued in the home and in de facto but illegal local maktabs. The main life-cycle rituals and major holidays were still observed. People made pilgrimages to tombs of holy men and to many natural sites associated with the miraculous. Numerous mullahs, Sufis, fortunetellers, and pious individuals served the needs of believers in ways the “official clergy” could not.

Yet Soviet policies did produce changes. Many people became less observant or nonobservant, although a large proportion of them still considered Islam an important part of their national heritage. By the end of the Soviet era, a number of religious leaders and Islamic activists were criticizing their fellow Muslims for knowing little about the religion beyond the major rituals.

The status of Islam changed in the late Soviet and early independence periods (since 1989); official anti-Islamic measures virtually disappeared, and citizens became openly assertive of the importance of Islam to them not only as religion, but also as a system of worldly values (in contrast to Soviet ideology) and as a part of their cultural and national heritage. Positive treatments of Islamic subjects were published. People organized Islamic study groups and, in a broader sense, reexamined the role they wanted Islam to play in their society. Political parties representing a range of ideologies (even the Communist Party) declared their respect for Islam and an explicitly Muslim party, the Islamic Renaissance or Revival Party (also called the Islamic Movement Party), was established. A new madrasah opened in Dushanbe, the capital of the republic. By 1991 Tajikistan had nearly three thousand legally functioning mosques. The old distinctions between “official” and “unofficial” Islam collapsed in the face of the rapid expansion of open observance.

Tajikistan’s Muslims have ethnic and cultural as well as religious links to peoples beyond the republic’s borders. All the larger Muslim nationalities represented in Tajikistan have members living elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, mostly in adjoining Central Asian republics. Contacts between Tajikistanis and members of the same nationalities in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region appear to be extremely limited.

Tajik interest in the Tajiks of Afghanistan seems to focus primarily on repudiation of the Soviet war there and on ways to use Tajik cultural development in Afghanistan to enrich Tajikistan’s culture after years of Soviet manipulation. Religious propaganda from various sources and personal contacts have crossed the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

Tajik interest in Iran includes a similar concern with culture. Iran also has some appeal as a country that has gone from self-described dependency on a foreign power to self-reliance. Some Tajikistanis have been adamant that Iran’s Islamic Republic could not be a model for Tajikistan because the differences between the Twelver Shiism of Iran and the Sunnism of Tajikistan are too great. Apart from religious or ethnic ties, newly independent Tajikistan is concerned to develop relations with a variety of foreign countries as it seeks the technology and investment funds it urgently needs to address its massive economic problems.

According to census 2016 the estimated population of Tajikistan is 8,734,951


Atkin, Muriel. The Subtlest Battle: Islam in Soviet Tajikistan. Philadelphia, 1989. Examines the social context of continued Islamic practice and the ways the Soviet regime tried to undermine Islam’s influence from the 1970s to the mid-1980s.

Atkin, Muriel. “The Survival of Islam in Soviet Tajikistan.” Middle East Journal 43.4 (Autumn 1989): 605-618. Explains how Muslims in Tajikistan were able to preserve and disseminate knowledge of Islam, despite the Soviet regime’s efforts to prevent that from happening.

Atkin, Muriel. “Religious, National, and Other Identities in Central Asia.” In Muslims in Central Asia: Questions of Identity and Change, edited by Jo-Ann Gross, pp. 46-72. Durham, N.C., 1992. Discusses the way the theoretically supranational Islamic identity coexists with a strong sense of Tajik national identity and local loyalties in contemporary Central Asia.

Bennigsen, Alexandre, and Chantal Lemercier-Quelquejay. Islam in the Soviet Union (1968). Translated by Geoffrey E. Wheeler and Hubert Evans. New York, 1967. Classic history of the problematic political relations between Muslims and the Russian empire and Soviet regime from the late imperial period to the mid-twentieth century.

Carrere d’Encausse, Helene. Islam and the Russian Empire: Reform and Revolution in Central Asia (1966). Translated by Quintin Hoare. Berkeley and London, 1988. Seminal study of the way, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some Muslim intellectuals in Central Asia-primarily Uzbeks and Tajiks-sought alternatives to traditionalist Islamic conservatism without repudiating their identity.

Dupree, Louis. “Tajik.” In Muslim Peoples: A World Ethnographic Survey, edited by Richard V. Weekes, vol. 2, pp. 739-‘745. Westport, Conn., 1984. Noted anthropologist’s introduction to the religion and general way of life of Tajiks living in the Soviet Union, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/tajikistan/

  • writerPosted On: July 7, 2018
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