Tajik Muslims Told to Change Names, Ways

Government wants to ban baby names that are "too Arabic". In a Muslim country, that won't be easy.

Tajik Muslims Told to Change Names, Ways

Government wants to ban baby names that are "too Arabic". In a Muslim country, that won't be easy.

Worried at the threat of Islamic extremism, the Tajik government is taking a range of counter-measures, and some of them look excessive and pointless at the same time.

A campaign against Islamic dress for women and beards for men has been going on since the spring, with police stopping people and threatening them with fines unless they change their appearance. (See In Battle With Radical Islam, Tajik Police Attack Beards .)

A longer-running campaign to restrict marriage between cousins is seen as part of the same project. Officials have long said the regulations are needed to prevent health problems that may affect children born to first cousins. (See Tajikistan to Ban Cousin Marriage .) But members of the Sayyid lineage say it is aimed at them specifically.

Sayyids in Central Asia and elsewhere claim descent from the Prophet Muhammad, and are viewed as a somewhat separate group, often religious and likely to become clerics. In Tajikistan, they tend to marry others from the Sayyid family line rather than outsiders. Some see the marriage restrictions as a plot to eliminate them as a cohesive group, and the respect they enjoy.

The government’s latest move is a plan to outlaw names that are “too Islamic”. This is going to be hard to implement since the vast majority of people in Tajikistan are Muslim, and names of Arabic origin are very common. Specifically, civil registration offices will be instructed not to allow babies to be given names containing elements like “Mullo” (mullah), “Khalifa” (caliph), “Amir” (emir) and the like.

Staff will be encouraged to offer “more authentically Tajik” alternatives like Firdaus and Rustam – names redolent of classical Persian literature.

It is not clear whether everyone who now has an Arabic name will be urged to change it. A few years ago, people were encouraged to drop the Russian “–ov” ending from their surnames. The de-Russified names are generally partly or all Arabic.

Saidehson Solehov is an IWPR contributor in Tajikistan.

This audio programme went out in Russian and Tajik on national radio stations in Tajikistan. It was produced under two IWPR projects: Empowering Media and Civil Society Activists to Support Democratic Reforms in Tajikistan, funded by the European Union, and Strengthening Capacities, Bridging Divides in Central Asia, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Norwegian foreign ministry.  

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