Activists Reassert Muslim Culture In Tadzhikistan
YAKATUT, TADZHIKISTAN — WITH most of her 10 children in tow, Kumat Daulatova methodically moved down the rows, picking cotton and flicking it into a huge sack.During the harvest season she'll pick cotton 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and will earn only about 10 rubles (32 cents at the tourist exchange rate) per day, Mrs. Daulatova said. Many of her children work the same hours. "The Communists are responsible for this. Down with the Communists," Daulatova said. "I don't know how they live in Iran, but if we have an Islamic republic then I'm sure our lives will become better. I would be able to sit at home and raise the children properly while my husband works." Daulatova's views are shared by many in the mainly Muslim Central Asian republic of 5.1 million. Resentful of the Communist system they feel has impoverished them, many of the mostly rural residents of Tadzhikistan appear anxious for a return of fundamentalist Islamic values. Tadzhikistan has been the scene of political unrest since Sept. 21, when the communist-dominated parliament repealed a ban on the Communist Party, which was renamed the Socialist Party following the failed August coup attempt. It also ousted interim President Kadriddin Aslonov and replaced him with former Communist Party boss Rakhman Nabiyev. There have been fears, especially among ethnic Russians, that Islamic leaders would use the unstable political situation to push for a fundamentalist revolution. Islamic political leaders support a democratic republic, however, saying it is premature to establish a religious state because the general knowledge of Islamic culture is too low. "For 73 years people were separated from Islam," says the leader of the Islamic Revival Party, Mullah Mukhamedsharif Khimatzoda, referring to the Communist era. "Maybe 80 percent of the population is Muslim, but the percentage of those who truly know Islam is much lower." But in Yakatut, a village 50 miles south of the capital Dushanbe, residents demonstrated a good knowledge of Islamic culture. After the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917, they cracked down on Islam in Central Asia, bulldozing mosques and burning books, as well as changing the alphabet from Arabic script to a localized version of the Cyrllic alphabet. Though teaching religion and its customs had been banned for years, many of those picking cotton with Daulatova on the 22nd Party Congress Collective Farm said they could read and write Arabic. "Islam is the most important thing in my life," said collective farmer Nizom Abdulloyev, as he wrote his name both in English and Arabic. "We read and learned about Islam in secret. We were afraid if we were caught by the Communists that would be the end." Mosques are being built all over the republic. In just one year, Yakatut villagers raised enough money and donated their time to build an Islamic school that now instructs 350 pupils aged 7 to 70, as well as the foundation for the mosque, says Hajikurban Dzhomakhmadov, the mosque's treasurer. "It's not easy obtaining building materials and it's also very expensive," he says. "But we're used to finding ways around the system. The rebirth of Islam is not going unnoticed among the approximately 500,000 Russians and Ukrainians in the republic. An exodus of Slavs has been going on since February of 1990, when ethnic riots sparked the military to fire on crowds, killing 25 and wounding more than 110. Islamic party leader Khimatzoda said the organization's goal was to establish an Islamic republic when the population was properly prepared, adding such a change could come through a referendum. Cleric Nurodin Trazhon-zoda said 70 years would be needed for the formation of an Islamic state. "There will be a time when Islam will be the state religion and there is no harm in it," Khimatzoda said. "Islam will not be imposed on others. Jews and Christians will be allowed to worship freely. Now many in the West and here also are afraid of fundamentalism because fundamentalists are identified as extremists and terrorists. But it really isn't so. Fundamentalism is the return to the roots of Islam." Fears of another Iran are ridiculous, Dzhomakhmadov added. Although Iranians and Tadzhiks come from the same Persian roots and have many cultural similarities, Iranians are mainly Shiite Muslims, while Tadzhiks are Sunni Muslims, he said.