Tajikistan’s Islamic Triangle: Acute or Obtuse Analysis?

by Mark on 2/25/2010 · 5 comments

Digging around the archives of Asia-Plus the other day (probably Tajikistan’s best, albeit embattled news outlet). I found an informative discussion related to the existence of an “Islamic Triangle” in Tajikistan.

The dialogue featured input from three Tajik political scientists about the trifecta of the Rasht Valley, Isfara districts, Kuhistoni Maschoh (not to be confused with Maschohi Nov a district in the Ferghana Valley also strongly associated with Islam) and is worth a read. Being good academics all three were quick to dismiss or qualify the slogan “Islamic Triangle” in less pun filled language. However all three contributors agreed that geographic factors played a factor in making these regions more observant.  Abdullo Rahnamo writes:

“The second reason, in my opinion, is connected by that «sovietization» of the authorities has to a lesser degree impacted these three mountain regions. That is, a difference that these mountain areas could to more considerable degree protects a life-style intrinsic to them. And this promoted that in this region of Islam values had more influences on people’s life, rather than in other regions.”

However they also note the obligatory distinction between “religious observance” and “extremism”. According Parviz Mullojonov:

“First, the definition of «Islamic triangle» is not absolutely correct and reflects more likely developed stereotypes rather than a real situation. Level of religiousness of the society rises today in many regions of the country much faster, than in the areas which are traditionally considered as “Islamic”. Secondly, it is not necessary to mix concepts “religiousness” and “extremism”. If the person is religious and strictly observes Shariah canons it does not mean that he becomes a member of the extremist organization tomorrow.”

He goes on to cite Khujand as a counter example—a city that paradoxically boasts impeccable Soviet credentials and comparatively high membership in transnational Islamist groups. This is often attributed to a higher presence of foreign missionary activity (locals I have talked to particularly cite the influence of Salifism over the past five years) which makes the radically inclined Muslims of a city like Khujand less “organic” than their counterparts in southern Tajikistan.

In a city like Khujand which is relatively prosperous, harbors grievances neither to the Soviet Union nor the current administration (other than a mild resentment towards the Kulobi power base to which they feel superior) and was largely spared the devastation of the civil war, the process of radicalization seems much less entangled with the issues of region or “tribe” (network, clan, mafia, колхоз, militia, шинос or whatever you want to call it) that are woven into the identity of Muslims from Rasht, Kuhistoni Maschoh, and perhaps other regions like Qurghonteppa.

Not wanting to stretch my understanding of geometry (to say nothing of parsimony) I will refrain from posing a “Hexagon of Hanifism” (or as fans of Ted Rall might appreciate a “Tetrahedron of Terrorism!”). Instead I will offer the hypothesis that Islamism (not Islam) in Tajikistan has more organic origins in places like Gharm, Tavildara, Maschoh, Qurghonteppa, and a more transnational tinge in cities like Khujand and Istaravshan. Of course this is not to preclude the possibility that a place couldn’t suffer from both at the same time (Isfara comes to mind as a prime example of such a phenomenon). It seems to me that this sort of distinction is relevent to understanding both the nature and goals of diverse Islamic movements within Tajikistan and the wider region.


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{ 5 comments }

Dafydd February 26, 2010 at 4:54 am

‘Secondly, it is not necessary to mix concepts “religiousness” and “extremism”. If the person is religious and strictly observes Shariah canons it does not mean that he becomes a member of the extremist organization tomorrow.”’

I would go rather further. I am not any sort of theologist, but I know that using the Koran to justify suicide bombing and targetting of civilians involves some improbable liguistic gymnastics.

People living in a culture with a strong tradition of religion and well established local imams will have the confidence to question these ideas at an early stage.

Extremists will (and do) find it easier to recruit among refugees shorn of these structures and converts who never had them.

Christian B February 26, 2010 at 5:51 pm

RE: “Instead I will offer the hypothesis that Islamism (not Islam) in Tajikistan has more organic origins in places like Gharm, Tavildara, Maschoh, Qurghonteppa, and a more transnational tinge in cities like Khujand and Istaravshan.”

Then you will have to be biased towards very recent history. I’m more inclined to think that the notable religious leaders in those places you first mentioned were influenced by Hindustani’s students, a man who spent considerable time digesting an “alien” Islam in his namesake country. More recently, Turajonzoda and Nuri (including all his buddies) were heavily influenced by the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood (Turajonzoda thanks to his time spent studying in the middle east). The activities of Nuri and his guys in Qurghonteppa and Gharm are of course well known.

But honestly, you could fix all of this by re-working your definitions.

Grant February 26, 2010 at 8:29 pm

I’d be paying more attention to the jails, admittedly the recruits might not be the best nor ready to die for a cause but they’ll already have disagreements with the existing government. Also I find it hard to see nations like Tajikistan being in serious threat from militant Islamic groups. With that kind of repressive system it isn’t easy for groups to form or move around.

Shannon March 1, 2010 at 11:22 am

I think Grant makes a good point, but I wonder if the Tajik government is that effective.

This video talks about extremism in Central Asian jails, I might have found it on this website. I don’t like how the cameramen harass the lawyer toward the beginning, but aside from that I found it very informative.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zckWipmOxG8

Toryalay Shirzay March 1, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Muslims who observe the Shariah are generally sympathetic to militant muslims because they think the militants are the real defenders of the faith ,and what the koran has taught them regarding special favors for those who fight and die in defense and spread of Islam, automatic admittance to heaven and 72 houris being just a couple of examples of many such favors.

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