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Kazakhstan Moves to Crack Down on Islamic Dress

In Tajikistan as well, religious institutions and their followers wrestle with new restrictions.

6 February 2018

A bill that last week sailed through its first reading in Kazakhstan’s parliament would grant authorities broader powers to target the "public display of the attributes and outward signs" of "destructive religious movements," according to RFE/RL.

 

That includes ankle-length pants and long beards, whose wearers would be subjected to a fine if the bill becomes law.

 

Religious Affairs Minister Nurlan Yermekbayev told reporters that officials will compile a list of religious groups they deem destructive, and that not everyone with a long beard should fear being stopped on the street and fined. Officials would determine if the person has had links to extremist movements, he said.

 

"The most important is what the person says and promotes," Yermekbayev said.

 

Religious figures, such as imams and priests, would be exempt from the ban. The bill follows comments made last year by Kazakhstan’s longtime ruler Nursultan Nazarbaev, who in April suggested a legal ban on certain Islamic clothing for both women and men. A ban on non-secular clothing in schools has been in place since January 2016.

 

Religious restrictions are neither new nor unusual in Central Asia, where state efforts to exert control over religious life have characterized the region’s post-Soviet development.

 

Worshippers attend prayer at a mosque in Kazakhstan's capital Astana. Screenshot : Al Jazeera / Youtube

 

Fears of terrorism have been met by increased religious restrictions in the region and conversely, have tempered international will to support religious freedom initiatives – usually central to the foreign policy agenda for countries such as the United States, the Economist wrote in 2016.

 

Last year in Tajikistan, the government converted 2,000 mosques throughout the country for secular use as part of a renewed drive to centralize religious practice in the country and keep an eye on the faithful, according to Eurasianet.org.

 

The head of the Committee for Religious Affairs, Husein Shokirov, said at a news conference on 5 February that the mosques failed to file registration documents and had been repurposed into public facilities including teahouses, hairdressers, cultural centers, medical clinics, and kindergartens.

 

The committee added that there are 3,900 mosques operating with proper permits in Tajikistan.

 

 

  • Uzbekistan’s president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has lifted some restrictions on Islam as part of a wider liberalization policy. Last month Uzbekistan opened its first Islamic university.

 

Compiled by Kate Syme-Lamont
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