IWPR Tajikistan trained 71 imam-khatibs during the trainings in the cities of Tursunzoda, Khujand, Konibodom. The imam-khatibs from border districts, representatives of local authorities, the Committee of Religion, Regulation of Traditions, Celebrations and Ceremonies under the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan and the Centre for Islamic Studies under the President of the Republic of Tajikistan participated in the trainings.
These trainings were conducted under IWPR project “Stability in Central Asia via Open Dialogue”. Within this project, IWPR has previously organized similar trainings for imam-khatibs from border districts of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, and trainings on the international standards of reporting on religious issues for journalists from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The articles produced by the participants of the trainings for journalists and the highlights of the trainings for imam-khatibs are published on the thematic portal Belief.cabar.asia.
Conducted educational seminars were aimed to improve participants’media literacy, knowledge of the legislation of the Republic of Tajikistan in the sphere of religious freedom and anti-extremism, as well as at raising the awareness about the modern methods of countering violent extremism. Another objective of these events was involving the religious leaders in promotion of the tolerance and interfaith dialogue.
Imam-khatibs in Tajikistan are still worried about the increased activity of so-called “Internet-imams”, who propagandize the ideologies of violent extremism, activities of the banned movements and organizations in Tajikistan, prevent interfaith dialogue in the country and stir up discord in a society. Despite the existing level of capacity and knowledge, the religious leaders of Tajikistan face challenges in countering the growth of dangerous ideologies and in promotion of interfaith tolerance.
Adapted for the needs and demands of religious leaders of Tajikistan, specially designed training program for imam-khatibs “Media tools for the promotion of tolerance and countering violent extremism propaganda” was used to improve the understanding of the necessity to promote religious tolerance in Tajik society and strengthen the skills to counter the destructive propaganda of violent extremism. The program featured clear-cut description of the legal norms in the sphere of religious freedom, liability for extremist activities, as well as the concept of the state secularism. A special attention was brought to the issue of improving the media literacy of imam-khatibs, providing an overview of the manipulative tactics used by extremist organizations and media tools for communication with the general public.
The employees of the Committee of Religion, Regulation of Traditions, Celebrations and Ceremonies under the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan Shokirov Huseyn and Umedjon Haqnazarov thoroughly presented the current legislation of the Republic of Tajikistan in the sphere of controlling the activities of religious organizations and countering the propaganda of the violent extremism ideologies. They explained the paradigm of secularism and vital necessity for the state to have an opportunity to monitor religious organizations’ compliance.
In his part of the training, the Deputy Director of the Centre for Islamic Studies under the President of the Republic of Tajikistan Rustam Azizi reviewed the historical religious diversity of Tajikistan and historically accepted value of religious tolerance. He told imam-khatibs about the peaceful and productive past coexistence of many religious, including Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Mithraism. The training by Azizi resulted in a lively discussion of the issues regarding the contradictions between the principle of secularism and interpretation of the religious canons, element of tolerance in the postulates of Hanafi maddhab, definition of the word “infidel” and attribution of people of other religions to the category of “People of the Book”. The trainer successfully answered all imam-khatibs’ questions, with this strengthening their understanding of the necessity to promote interfaith tolerance among their parishioners.
Rustam Azizi: “This event was a fruitful platform for the exchange of opinions and experiences among the participants. An important achievement, in our view, is that the organizers managed to secure the representativeness and balance among the participants. Also, we need to mention the trust-based relations and free atmosphere established during the discussion and disputes about the raised topics. I think that these activities help in increasing the cooperation between the stakeholders of different levels in PVE.”
Media expert Rustam Gulov conducted a session on media literacy and tools for countering violent extremism. The session began with the interactive test of participants’ media literacy by means of online platform plickers.com: the participants answered trainer’s questions by showing special QR-codes. Having started the training with such an interactive element, Gulov succeeded in attracting imam-khatibs’ interest in analysis of fake videos popularly spread in the region, and in learning the methods of detecting the fake materials. Also, he thoroughly presented the functions and opportunities provided by social media for promotion of the tolerance and imams’ role in preventing violent extremism.
Rustam Gulov: “Judging by the reaction of the participants during the trainings, it became obvious they were interested. Thus, one can say that age, position and social status are not a barrier to increasing the level of media literacy. Imam-khatibs are used to give guidance to people addressing them for an advice, however, during the training, most of them actively participated in the discussion of the issues, tests and surveys.
I enjoyed working with them, as the atmosphere of mutual respect and desire to learn, established in them by their believes and creed, positively affected the overall quality of the trainings.”
In the end of the trainings, imam-khatibs evaluated the trainers’ work, and told about the existing problems in their communities. They said they wish more of similar and more extended trainings were conducted.
IWPR Tajikistan will continue conducting similar trainings in the upcoming months. The trainings will be held in other regions of Tajikistan – Khatlon and Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Regions.