TAJIKISTAN: As part of an "anti-radicalisation campaign", police in the Khatlon region reportedly shaved the beards of 13,000 men and shut down 160 shops selling the hijab, reported BBC earlier this week.

According to the report, hundreds of thousands of men have been arrested in recent years for adopting mannerisms "alien and inconsistent with Tajik" culture — maintaining a beard is considered among the gravest of these offences.

The BBC interviewed nine men who said they had been detained in the street and forcibly taken to the police department for an arrest, or to a barber shop to be shaved.

Women are given their own prescriptions: their dress, the government has stated, must be in traditional Tajik colours. Black, the colour most commonly associated with the burqa, is automatically outlawed in these circumstances.

"Even in mourning, Tajik women [should] wear white, not black," President Emomali Rakhmon has warned the Tajiks.

The fear of 'alien values'

President Emomali Rahmon has been ruling the country since 1994 and is soon expected to approve a legislation that will promote secular values, which includes banning Arabic-sounding and "foreign" names officially.

With sections of the Middle East and Asia falling to extremism and militancy, the Central Asian states increasingly fear the spread of radicalisation.

Estimates suggest that between 1,500 and 4,000 Central Asians could have joined different militant groups in Syria, as of June 2015.

Women have been told to "wear clothes of traditional colours and cut, not black." —AFP
Women have been told to "wear clothes of traditional colours and cut, not black." —AFP

In response, countries like Tajikistan have launched official campaigns and taken measures that discourage Islamic cultural practices. In September last year, Tajikistan's Supreme Court banned the Islamic Renaissance Party, which is the only registered Islamic political party in the Muslim-majority country, Al Jazeera reported.

President Rakhmon has also warned Tajiks: "Don't worship alien values, don't follow alien culture. Wear clothes of traditional colours and cut, not black."

The fight for secular values

The fight to maintain secular values has affected men, women and children alike. The state has placed a ban on hijabs in all educational institutions, and state institutions follow the same rule.

Parents are discouraged from giving their children Arabic names, and are pressured to opt for more traditional and familiar Tajik names.

According to the BBC report, Tajik police said they shut down 160 shops that sold the hijab, and convinced over 1,500 women to stop wearing the Islamic code of dress.

In the south-west region of Khathlon, police reported that law enforcement agencies have successfully convinced over 1500 women to stop wearing headscarves.

Even though Tajikistan is a 99% Muslim, atheism was encouraged during 70 years of Soviet rule.

'Do not shave'

One man, Djovid Akramov, said he was outside his house with his seven-year-old son when the police intercepted him and rushed him to a station to remove his beard.

"They called me a Salafist, a radical, a public enemy," Djovid told the BBC. "And then two of them held my arms while another one shaved half of my beard."

Shaving off men's beards is not an unprecedented response to battling extremism, since growing a beard is a traditional Islamic practice.

The Taliban have particularly warned men against shaving their beards. In Pakistan, a barber shop in Buner was found with a 'do not shave' warning written across its front window, reportedly by militants.

Upper Dir Barbers in the town of Darora were also warned to stop shaving beards, the residents told Dawn in 2008. A threatening leaflet was circulated by a group of the Taliban, after which barbers stopped trimming and shaving beards completely.

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