Staunton, July 26 – The tendency of post-Soviet governments to return to the Soviet pattern of keeping the activities of mullahs and imams restricted to mosque services and rituals is having the same consequence that it did in the USSR: reducing the importance of the “official” religious leaders and thus opening the way to the radicalization of the faithful by others.
A comment by Tajik journalist Mukhibullo Shoyev for the Centrasia portal this week comparing the outcomes in Uzbekistan where the government has permitted the leaders of mosques to work outside their precincts and in Tajikistan where the regime has sought to block such activities is instructive on this point (centrasia.ru/news.php?st=1501008240).
In Uzbekistan, he says, “one can see numerous publications of imams and other representatives of the official spiritual leadership about true Islam, about the interpretation of the Koran and about terrorism and extremism.” These Muslim leaders moreover “organize regular conversations, roundtables, and other measures” to combat those ills.
“But in Tajikistan,” Shoyev continues, “the imams do not play an active role in the struggle with these evils. They act very passively. As a result, at present, some 1200 Tajiks have joined the militants in Iraq and Syria, and more than 300 of these have fallen in battle.”
The Tajik imams often don’t know what their parishioners are thinking and are “practically indifferent to their personal problems which when they remain unresolved can lead to radicalization.” What is most important for many believers is that someone pays attention to them and listens. If the imams and mullahs don’t, then believers will turn to others.
Tajik religious leaders are “practically not heard on radio, television and the Internet.” As a result, young people turn to others because “the extremists use the information vacuum created by the religious. [The latter] do not understand that their voice could bring back dozens of young people who have gone to Syria and Iraq.”
If mullahs and imams go beyond the confines of the mosque and both listen to people and promote knowledge about the Koran and Muslim traditions, that alone will immunize many. After all, Shoyev says, “knowledge is the best weapon against extremism.”