In their intent to marginalize the role of Islam in public life, authorities in Tajikistan are reportedly prohibiting government employees from attending Friday prayers.
Independent news website Asia-Plus based its October 12 report on the ban on testimonies from unnamed civil servants.
The prohibition fits into a broader pattern of pressure against public displays of piety. An informal ban against young men wearing beards is eagerly enforced, while women with veils covering the face can expect to be hauled off the streets by police.
That intimidation is coupled with an ongoing crackdown of what was Central Asia’s only legal Islamic political party – the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan – until it was banned this summer. Almost the entire party leadership is now behind bars pending trials on flimsy claims of involvement in an alleged insurgency.
Moves against government workers attending Friday prayers at the mosque appear to be a recent development and began after the Eid al-Adha holiday, better known as Idi Qurbon in Tajikistan, which was marked this year on September 23.
“Over the last two weeks, after Idi Qurbon, our management forbade us from leaving work to attend Friday prayers,” one unnamed government employee told Asia-Plus.
The website said that the report had been confirmed by the state Committee for Religious Affairs and the Regulation of Traditions and Customs.
Rules for children are even stricter.
President Emomali Rahmon in 2011 approved a law banning children under 18 from attending the Friday prayers. In another measure aimed at limiting the influence of Islam among the young, the government in 2010 began pressuring students at Islamic universities and madrassas overseas into coming back home.
A source with the government’s religion committee said in the Asia-Plus report they have been given instructions to monitor mosques to ensure compliance with laws making it illegal for minors to visit mosques, suggesting the ban has been broadened.
Friday prayers start at around midday and last through till 1:20 p.m., which extends longer than the average time allowed for lunch breaks in most government bodies in Tajikistan, Asia-Plus observed.
Most Islamic authorities agree that attendance of Friday prayers is an obligation for all practicing Muslims, except in extreme circumstances.
But former head of the religious affairs committee cited by Asia-Plus, Abdurahim Holikov, went on record in 2013 to argue that the labor code was clear about employees’ obligations.
“When a doctor in the hospital during an operation leaves the sick patient to go recite namaz … or the border guard abandons the frontier post to go and pray, the border is left untended,” Holikov said.