Mosque Leaders Subject to Religion Tests

Dushanbe, Tajikistan - New procedures in Tajikistan to test the clergy’s knowledge of Islamic doctrine could be used as a political tool to marginalise government opponents, NBCentralAsia observers warn. To avoid this happening, they say, the commission in charge of the examinations should be seen to be balanced, and include independent experts on religion.

Compulsory testing of everyone holding the post of “imam-khatib”, who lead prayers in the mosques, was announced in July, and the process has now started. In the Shohmansur district of Dushanbe, all imams will have taken the test by August 25.

They will have to demonstrate a knowledge of the Koran, the rituals of prayer, giving sermons, and how to mark events in the Muslim calendar.

Anyone who fails the test will be automatically dismissed.

This is the first time such examinations have been held, and the procedure was devised and is now being overseen by the Council of Ulema, the supreme Muslim body in Tajikistan, bringing together more than 3,000 mosques and issuing recommendations on religious matters.

The Council of Ulema was created in the late Nineties out of the then Muftiyate.

Hoji Saimuddin, the council’s executive secretary, told NBCentralAsia that the need to test clerics was long overdue. He also believes the examinations will help establish whether a special institute which the council set up two years ago to provide further education for clergy is having any effect.

NBCentralAsia observers are concerned that the new test has been introduced too quickly and imams have not had enough time to prepare.

Faridun Khodizoda, manager of the Swiss Cooperation Office’s project Dialogue in Tajikistan, believes that imams should be tested for competence, but argues the process has been over-hasty and is being overseen by too narrow a group. All seven members of the testing commission are drawn from the Council of Ulema.

“It would be better if the commission included a wide range of influential religious figures people,” he said.

In the view of the head of the Islamic Rebirth Party, Muhiddin Kabiri, “The testing is designed not to check on knowledge and skills, but to root out people who are in disfavour – imams who won’t toe the line – to dismiss them from their jobs, and put one’s one people [into the mosques] in their place.”

Political analyst Shokirjon Hakimov agreed with this, warning that the testing could contain “a subjective element [where] they try to get rid of out-of-favour, unwanted imams who have their own independent position and view of the world”.