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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Mutable Roles of Islam In Tajikistan

Imamudi Saifiddy, 28, would like to see an Islamic republic in Tajikistan, but his idea of what that would entail tells much about just how little Islamic fundamentalism has to do with the republic's civil war.


"It would be like in Iran, where everyone studies the Koran", said the Arabic-language teacher beneath the brightly colored minarets of Dushanbe's Madrassah, Tajikistan's only school for the study of Islam. "I used to work on a collective farm picking cotton all day", he said. "They paid me 5 kopeks for one kilogram of cotton. Five kopeck? ! "


"When there is an Islamic republic", he went on, "I will be able to sell whatever I collect for whatever price I want to, like in Iran. and if I save enough money, I could buy my own land".


Saifiddy's Islamic republic sounds a lot like the United States, or any other country where religious freedom and private ownership are the rights of any citizen. Such is the view of a teacher at the Madrassah.


For the average Tajik, the idea of an Islamic state is so remote that many simply refuse even to talk about it.


Still, Islam has a clear role in the current civil war. It was a coalition of democrats and two Islamic factions that unseated President Rakhmon Nabiyev last month, lighting the spark that ignited the all-out war in the south.


Furthermore the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, though remote, is talked about in the ranks of anti-government Kulyabi fighters, fueling the flames of a war already based primarily on interclan suspicion.


Last week, Qasi Abdul Gafor, the leader of pro-government forces fighting in southern Tajikistan, stood near the war's frontline in Kurgan Tyube, growing angrier with every round off machine-gun fire. After screaming at a Russian tank commander, he exploded at a question about the role of Islam in the war.


"You want to know who is guilty for this", Gafor shouted, waving his arms toward the fighting. "First of all it is the Western propaganda for scaring people into thinking this could be a second Iran".


Just 200 students currently study at Dushanbe's Madrassah. The number is up from 150 last year, but in a nation of 5 million it is no wonder Gafor grows angry at talk of an Islamic state in Tajikistan.


"It would take 30 to 40 years to build an Islamic republic here", said Saifiddy, seated on a step inside the Madrassah. "Very few want it".


On the grounds of the Madrassah, Paraviz Sadriddinov, 13, says he comes to talk to the older boys about what they are learning.


"I want to know the Koran", said Sadriddinov. "I would like an Islamic republic. It may not be what most people want, but it is what I want".