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Interfaith marriages in Tajikistan: all is possible if you are in love

Different religions should not become the obstacles to marriage, as religious scholars and representatives of clergy say. The main thing that matters is mutual respect and following the traditions of both sides.


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Galina’s husband, ethnic Tajik, forbade her to celebrate Easter, and the family was on the verge of breakdown. Later, the mullah advised Khurshed not to impose his religion on his wife and accept her as she is.

Khurshed and Galina have been married for over 20 years. In the 90s, when the mass labor migration of Tajiks to Russia began, Khurshed Avazov and his classmate left to work in Siberia.

There he met Galina and married her, abandoning a bride back in his homeland with whom he was engaged. The young people lived as a family, gave birth to a daughter, and did not think about national and religious traditions until an incident occurred.

“I have always treated my husband’s religion with understanding and respect. It is necessary to kill a sheep on Eid al-Adha (Kurban Bayram), go to a mosque for a service or prepare a festive celebration for Tajik friends: there were no problems with this,” says Galina.

However, during the first year of their life as a couple, she decided to go to church on Easter, to pray and light a candle for the departed, but her husband was totally against it.

Khurshed insisted: “Since you have married a Muslim, you must accept his faith.”

“I denied it and cried,” says Galina.

Her mother’s attempt to solve the problem only aggravated the situation: her husband quarreled with his mother-in-law and asked her not to interfere in the family affairs.

Illustrative photo: Reuters source
Illustrative photo: Reuters source

“Galina suffered from this, and I did not want to understand her. After all, I grew up in Muslim traditions and my wife promised to always support me in everything,” says Khurshed.

Khurshed notes that at the same time, his wife tried to reach a compromise in their family life.

“Although we lived in Russia at that time, she hosted my guests wearing national Tajik outfits, we had kurpacha (quilted blankets to sit on the ground) at our place and she cooked only Muslim food: pork was not allowed in our house,” says Khurshed.

According to Khurshed, the problems in the family began when the question of whether his wife should go to church or not, arose.

“Galya defended her point of view, and I insisted on mine. After another quarrel, I went to the mosque, to the Tajik mullah and spoke with him about the situation,” Khurshed said.

Khurshed expected the mullah to give him advice on how he could convert his spouse to Islam, but he heard something completely different.

“No matter what, do not force her to abandon her faith; since she is a Christian by birth, let this remain,” the mullah told him.
According to the clergyman, Muslims should honor their religion, but first, they must respect the religion of other people, whether they are Christians or Jews.

“If you behaved in such a way that your wife herself would like to convert to Islam, then it would be acceptable, as you would increase the number of Muslims by doing so. But since she professes her religion and insists on it, you should not oppose her, but should accept her as she is,” the mullah emphasized.

Khurshed recalls that this advice disappointed him then.

“What about my children, will they not be Muslims now?” he asked anxiously. Mullah replied that in such families children could only choose a religion upon reaching the age of majority.

That is how they began to live: Galina went to church, Khurshed – to the mosque. Even having returned and settled in Tajikistan, everyone today adheres to his religion. Together they celebrate the holidays of Ramadan and Kurban; they kill a sheep on Eid al-Adha and decorate eggs on Easter.

By the way, Khurshed’s son was circumcised. Having matured, he chose Islam, and his daughter prefers to be an atheist, although she married a Muslim.

“I always will remember that mullah in the remote Russian village, from whom I received that wise advice. Otherwise, Galya and I would not have lived as long as 26 years in love and harmony,” says Khurshed.

What does statistics and science say?

Sociological studies regarding the society’s attitude towards interfaith marriages in Tajikistan have not been conducted. According to Sophia Kasimova, sociologist and the head of the Center for Gender Education, society is more interested in the religious, rather than national, affiliation of the marrying parties.

According to experts, such marriages cause the most cautions in rural areas. The condemnation of mixed marriages can be heard even from the tribunes. In 2013, Tajik parliamentarian Saodat Amirshoeva declared that interfaith marriages could destroy the genetic pool of the Tajik nation.

The marriages between Muslim women and men of other faiths are considered the most unacceptable. For example, during Soviet times, the daughter of a famous folk poet married a Russian. This poet was so condemned that he was forced to formally break off all relations with his daughter. Although, according to his friends, the poet respected his daughter’s choice.

Amirshoeva, who was mentioned above, also said, “Muslim Tajiks can marry women of other religions, but Tajik women are better off not doing this.”

“I am against Tajik Muslim girls marrying men of a different religion, especially the Chinese,” she said.

In addition, there is no reliable data on interfaith marriages. There are statistics on interethnic marriages, but data on this is published every two years. The Agency on statistics under the President of the Republic of Tajikistan informed CABAR.asia journalist that they do not even have final data for 2018. According to previous data from 2012 (other statistics were not provided), of the total number of officially registered marriages in the Republic of Tajikistan (94,730 marriages), 5.7% or 5413, are interethnic.

Of this number, 4,542 people are representatives of other nationalities, but all are Muslims. These are Uzbeks, Turkmen, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz – 83% of the total number of interethnic marriages, 5% are marriages with Russians (274 people), 1.1% (61 people) – with Ukrainians, 515 people (9.5 %) with other nationalities, among which, perhaps, there are representatives of other religions.

Meanwhile, every two years, the Agency on statistics under the President of the Republic of Tajikistan publishes a Demographic Digest, which contains data on interethnic marriages. According to this digest, last published in 2018, 78,637 marriages were registered in the Republic of Tajikistan in 2017, of which 3,093, (3.9%) are interethnic marriages. Note that in comparison with the urban population (1047 cases, 3.5%), villagers are more likely to marry representatives of other nationalities (2046 marriages, 5.2%).

The full inter-religious marriages statistics is expected to appear only in 2020, when the population census will be held. The question regarding religious affiliation for the first time will be included in this census. Such statistical data was not collected before.

Tolerance and Compromise Are Required

The Ulema Council of Tajikistan stated that those who unite in interfaith marriage should be prepared for relatives’ misunderstanding.

“To live in a marriage happily, representatives of two different religions need to be very tolerant of the norms and traditions of another religion, to be ready to face misunderstanding or disrespect from their own relatives or friends,” Ulema Council representative said.

According the anonymous representative of the Ulema Council, in case if people of different religions love each other and are ready for interfaith marriage, they will be able to compromise on the choice of their children’s religion. For example, they will provide the freedom to choose the faith for the children when they mature.

According to the religious scholar Rustam Azizi, a nikoh (marriage in Islam) between a Muslim man and a Jewish or Christian (baptized) woman is allowed and permissible.

“This day all good things have been made lawful to you. The food of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] is permitted to you, and your food is permitted to them. And permitted to you are chaste women, be they either from among the believers or from among those who have received the Book before you [Jews and Christians], provided you become their protectors in wedlock, rather than go around committing fornication and taking them as secret-companions,” Azizi quoted the fifth surah of the Quran, “Al-Ma’ida”.

As Azizi said, following this, a Muslim can marry a Christian or a Jew woman without their conversion to Islam.

According to Kholmahmad Rajabov, PhD candidate at the Institute of Philosophy, Political Science and Law of the Academy of Science of the Republic of Tajikistan, Ferdowsi’s “Shahnameh” speaks of interethnic and interfaith marriages, and it follows that this phenomenon has occurred since ancient times.

“According to several studies, there were interethnic and inter-religious marriages between Zoroastrians and Jews in Iran and Turan,” he notes.

In addition, according to him, during the time of the Khanate of Bukhara, there were marriages between Muslims and Jews, who spoke the Tajik language and publicly supported the normative rules and values of the Muslim community, but professed Judaism.

Sociologist Alla Kuvatova believes that the situation regarding interfaith marriages in Tajikistan dramatically changed in the 90s.

“A transformation has also taken place in this issue, as well as in all other social areas,” Kuvatova says.

The importance of Islam as a religion has increased in society and currently representatives of the dominant nation are trying to marry only Muslims. Migrant workers in Russia marry Russians and representatives of other nationalities, if they adopt Islam.

“At the same time, the cases are quite rare when Tajik girls marry men of other religion on condition that they abandon their religion,” the sociologist notes.