It’s been a busy month for me as I prepare to move from the UK to Canada to start a PhD on post-Soviet university development in Central Asia at the University of Toronto in September, hence the lack of posts this month. I’ve also been invited to write a short essay for Higher Education in Russia and Beyond‘s next issue which I am trying to finish up – I won’t give away any more at this stage, but will post again when that’s published… watch this space, as they say.
In this post I’m picking up on a story that Radio Liberty (known in Tajikistan as Radio Ozodi) ran earlier this month about the Tajik government’s decision to build a new Islamic university [ru]. The proposal is being taken forward by the Committee for Religious Affairs, although the article doesn’t really offer a rationale behind the decision other than to note the importance of introducing modern facilities (in contrast to the existing Islamic Institute which, according to the Committee’s Chairman, is no longer fit for purpose).
According to state figures, across Tajikistan there are six madrassas (Islamic religious schools) and a secondary (high) school as well as the Islamic Institute previously mentioned. There had been more fee-paying madrassas, but many of these have been closed in recent years owing to substandard conditions or because the curriculum did not follow that decided by the Ministry of Education and Committee for Religious Affairs. These closures are more in line with the way that the Tajik government as a whole appears to view religion, i.e. with a great deal of scepticism and fear. That said, and the article also refer to this, Qatari money is currently building what will be a gigantic mosque in capital city Dushanbe (for more on this, see http://www.eurasianet.org/node/64345), which the government appears quite happy to allow.
The authorities have pointed out that the mosque construction and this new Islamic university are evidence of the government’s tolerance for religion. The opposition, inasmuch as it exists, disagrees. I think many others would disagree too. In fact, you could argue that Tajikistan is unique amongst Muslim-majority countries in maintaining a state line that is so evidently anti-religion, intervening as it has on everything from facial hair for men (state officials must not wear beards) to the content of sermons spoken at Friday prayers in mosques.
Against this background, it could only be assumed that the government is trying to assert even greater control over Islam in Tajikistan through the creation of this new university, which presumably will be managed and its curriculum dictated by the Ministry of Education and Committee for Religious Affairs.