Muslim clerics at Tajikistan’s larger mosques begin receiving government salaries this month, in a controversial move that some see as eroding the divide between state and religion.
The pay-scale runs from the equivalent of 160 to 300 US dollars a month depending on the importance of the mosque. The prayer-leader at the central mosque in the capital Dushanbe will get 400 a month.
The head of the government’s religious affairs committee, Abdurrahim Kholikov, says the pay should be seen as a kind of welfare benefit designed to encourage clerics to do a better job.
The committee has produced a 300-page handbook for mosque prayer-leaders which sets out 45 suitable topics for Friday sermons.
Others point out that the governments of a number of secular states provide similar funding for clerics.
Opponents of the scheme say it is just the latest move to impose control and co-opt clerics by a government fearful of the spread of radical Islam. Mahmadali Khait, deputy head of the Islamic Rebirth Party, warns that the end result could be a clergy that spends its time serving Tajikistan’s political leaders.
Mehrangiz Tursunzoda is an IWPR contributor in Tajikistan.
This audio programme went out in Russian and Tajik on national radio stations in