Tajikistan’s authoritarian government has enlisted the support of the state-appointed clergy ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary vote.
“We have to vote for those whose work has achieved results,” reads a sermon the government distributed to imams ahead of Friday prayers on February 27. “May God protect our head of state, who has devoted himself to saving our nation and delivering us from our troubles.”
The sermon, seen by EurasiaNet.org, was prepared by the state-run Council of Religious Affairs, which manages all of Tajikistan’s mosques, vets and pays all imams. As instructed, imams read the sermon at a number of mosques in Dushanbe today, a source in the capital told EurasiaNet.org. In the city’s central mosque, the source said, the imam paraphrased the sermon and highlighted long-serving President Emomali Rakhmon’s outstanding leadership qualities.
The sermon goes on to criticize the opposition. Although it does not name any parties, the target is clear: Tajikistan’s beleaguered and moderate Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT), which the authorities have largely prevented from campaigning ahead of the March 1 election.
“Is it not this party that divided people? Is it not this party that brought you to Afghanistan [as refugees], bringing hunger, poverty and humiliation?” the sermon reads. It goes on to accuse the IRPT – which was born out of the 1997 peace treaty that ended Tajikistan’s civil war – of stockpiling weapons and seeking to return the country to civil war.
Tajikistan’s state-sponsored clergy consistently warns of the dangers of political Islam. In January, Chief Mufti Saidmukkaram Abdulkodirzoda told state television that the IRPT should remove the word "Islamic" from its name. The party protested to the Central Electoral Committee, but it’s complaint fell on deaf ears. Last week, the Council of Ulema urged political parties “not to abuse the name of Islam during the elections.” Continuing this theme, Friday’s sermon also accuses political Islam of endangering society.
Today, there are some people who blacken the name of the [president’s ruling PDP] party, who blacken the name of Islam. These statements are nothing more than exaggeration. These words are spoken by those who have usurped Islam for their own selfish purposes and scare people with religion. […] In neighboring countries, parties and groups who act in the name of Islam exist, but today on their territory blood has been spilt. These parties are foreign to us, they blow up mosques, destroy people’s tranquility and make children orphans.
The authorities have repeatedly blasted the opposition for employing Islam for political gain. But now it sounds like the authorities are doing just that, with a distinct advantage: they own the imams’ tongues.