The parliamentary elections on March 1, 2015, mark a caesura for postconflict Tajikistan. With the exclusion of the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (irpt) from Tajikistan’s parliament, the political elite has finally abandoned the principles of the 1997 General Peace Accord, which had ended the country’s Civil War (1992–1997). Since then, the irpt has distinguished itself as a credible oppositional political party committed to democratic principles with an almost imperceptible religious agenda. By shifting the irpt’s attention to issues of democratization and socioeconomic development, its chairman, Muhiddin Kabirī, opened the irpt to a younger electorate. Continuous defamation campaigns and persecution, however, have worn down the irpt’s activists and its electorate. The party’s electoral defeat did not come as a surprise.
Although Tajikistan is a participating state of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and has acceded to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), religious associations are under increasingly scrutiny limiting the freedom of conscience. Tajikistan's government follows a similar policy as her Central Asian neighbors Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. While a restrictive and contradictory religious association law limits the public space for religious associations, the government successively strengthens 'official' Islamic institutions and therefore directly interferes in internal religious affairs. Considering the diversity of Islamic beliefs in and practices in Central Asia and Tajikistan in particular, this policy could generate further friction among religious communities.
The recent transformation of Tajikistan’s political system has significantly altered the social and political context in which the country’s lay Muslims and religious elites negotiate Islam and Islamic normativity. The quasi-governmental Islamic Center (Markazi Islomi) has taken on a more dominant role, becoming the sole official (state-approved) Islamic institution in Tajikistan defining Islamic normativity. In this work, we explore the rationale behind the Tajik state’s pursuit of this political trajectory, conduct a detailed examination of the religious edicts ( fatwas) issued by the Islamic Center, and identify its conservative trends. Our research suggests that the Islamic Center offers the Tajik government a way to achieve its much-desired monopoly over the religious field. Furthermore, we argue that the Islamic Center’s conservative interpretation of Islam, with its emphasis on political conformity, social patriarchy, and limited mystical experience, is far more “legible” and administratively manageable for the authoritarian regime than the previous religious pluralism.