Tajik police shave 13,000 beards to fight religion

Secular regime's law enforcement services convinced 1,700 women and girls to stop wearing headscarves.

Gil Ronen ,

Tajik farmer
Tajik farmer

Police at the Khatlon region of the central Asian republic of Tajikistan held a press conference Tuesday to review their progress combating "foreign" influences – a euphemism for radical Islam – in 2015.

The Tajik Service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) quoted the head of Khatlon police, Bahrom Sharifzoda, as saying that over the course of the year, police closed down 162 shops and stalls where hijabs were being sold and, in the process, convinced 1,773 women and girls not to wear the headscarves.

Police also said they arrested 89 hijab-wearing prostitutes during this time. It is not clear from the report whether wearing the hijab was connected to the women's occupation, and if so how.

Sharifzoda also said that 12,818 men who "had overly long and unkempt beards" were "brought to order."

RFE/RL commented that Tajik officials have been "working overtime lately to regulate words, names, ideas, appearance, and clothing so that all conform to 'Tajik' values, which admittedly remain somewhat ill-defined."

Until the news conference, Khatlon authorities had denied that they were targeting women wearing hijabs or men with long beards. 

The Muslim-majority country's president, Emomali Rahmon, has been "moving to solidify life-long rule for himself and in the process has become the ultimate and undisputed arbiter of fashion, etiquette, and especially religious practices," according to RFE/RL.

The president's wife, Azizamoh Rahmon, has meanwhile been named the leader of Muslim women in Tajikistan. This, although her husband banned women from attending mosques more than a decade ago.

Last September, Tajikistan's Supreme Court banned the country's only registered Islamic political party, after months of violence that the government blamed on radical Islamism.

Ban on Arabic names

Rahmon has ruled Tajikistan since 1994 and his current presidential term is expected to end in 2020.

The country has struggled with poverty and instability since independence from the Soviet Union more than 20 years ago, and remains heavily dependent on Russia.

Lawmakers recently voted to ban Arabic-sounding names as well as marriages between first cousins.

The restriction on names aims to stem a growing trend in Tajikistan, where Muhammad, Yusuf, and Abubakr have become the most popular names for boys in recent years, and Sumayah, Aisha, and Asiya have become the most popular names for girls.

The amendments also counter the trend of adding Islamic and Arabic suffixes and prefixes - such as mullah, khalifa, shaikh, amir, and sufi - to men’s names.

The state Committee for Language and Terminology recently announced that it has prepared a list of some 4,000 recommended names for newborns. These are mostly "pure" Tajik or Persian names.