If you wear a beard in Tajikistan, you must be a terrorist. At least, that’s what some authorities appear to believe. In their latest effort to stamp out expressions of Islam in the country, police have begun detaining bearded men, according to local press reports.
One (formerly?) bearded Dushanbe resident described his detention:
"[Police] explained that [my detention] was connected with anti-terror measures. Is it normal to see a terrorist in every bearded man? Logically, a terrorist would not wear a beard to avoid attracting attention, knowing how such people are being treated nowadays. However, what should we do, we who have no extremist views and are just fulfilling the sunnahs [following the practices of the Prophet]? For me the beard is a sunnah, which I want to and should fulfill. When I tried to explain that, they said that I could live in Pakistan, for example, if I am not satisfied with the laws of this country.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Mahmadullo Asadulloev confirmed to RFE/RL that a campaign against men with long beards had begun. But he said it was only against suspected followers of Salafism, a strict form of Islam.
Asadulloev added that all "suspicious men" detained during the campaign would be freed after they were questioned, listed, and fingerprinted.
This stepped-up pressure on followers of Islam coincides with security forces' battle against militants in the remote Rasht Valley. The authorities' logic: the militants -- a hodgepodge of anti-government forces -- are in fact jihadists fighting on behalf of an elusive Bin Laden-like character. (He hasn't been seen in so long, it's unclear if he still sports a beard.) But if moderate Muslims keep getting harassed for their appearances, they may head for Rasht regardless of who's waging the fight.