Tajikistan Bans Ismaili Home Prayers and Teaching

Two Ismaili home owners in Gorno-Badakhshan which is an autonomous province in Tajikistan have been fined one month’s average wage each for hosting prayers in their homes which has been banned since last year.

Ismaili Elders were told on 14 January in Khorugh not to allow prayers in homes, that local people must remove portraits of Ismaili spiritual leader the Aga Khan, and that study at the London-based Institute of Ismaili Studies is no longer allowed and voluntary teaching lessons for children based on a course from the Aga Khan Foundation are banned.

“People met outside the elders’ homes to hear the news and many were crying, but people are too afraid to protest.” Elders said adding it was too difficult for them to reach the only place in Mountainous Badakhshan where Ismailis can still meet for worship – their centre in Khorugh. They can continue to pray at home on their own.

The Ismaili branch of Shia Islam in Tajikistan is mainly found in Mountainous Badakhshan, and the community worldwide is led by the Aga Khan, a direct descendent of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Ismaili Muslims meet for worship not in mosques, but in centres (which also host educational and cultural events) or homes. The two Ismaili centres in Tajikistan – in Khorugh and in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe – remain open, but only for prayers. Officials have banned the centres from conducting any educational or cultural activities.

At the January meeting, officials also insisted that local people must remove portraits of the Ismaili spiritual leader, the Aga Khan, which hang in places of honour in homes. Officials had earlier complained of such portraits in the centre in Dushanbe. The Aga Khan has not been allowed to visit Tajikistan since 2012 – the regime rejected his attempt to visit in 2017 during his Diamond Jubilee visits to Ismaili communities in more than 10 countries.

Officials also said that young Ismailis would no longer be allowed to travel to Britain for education at the Institute of Ismaili Studies. The regime has long tried to prevent people of any faith from traveling abroad for religious education .

In late January 2023, the authorities in the Gorno- Badakhshan Region banned voluntary lessons for secondary-school age children based on a course book published by the Aga Khan Foundation. The secret police have begun seizing copies of the Tajik-language set of course books, “Ethics and Knowledge”.

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