SHAFAQNA – Violating religious rights of Tajik Muslims, the government has banned hajj for citizens under 35 to curb the number of Tajik pilgrims to the holy land, in a move that was widely seen as an attempt to combat radicalism.
“Only people 35 years old and above will have a right to perform such a pilgrimage,” Tajik government’s committee for religious affairs said in a press release cited by Interfax on Tuesday, April 14.
“The goal of our decision is to allow elderly people to observe the annual pilgrimage and make their long-time dream come true.”
According to the government, the new ban comes as Saudi Arabia aims to avoid hajj stampede by reducing the visa quota of each country.
More than 8,000 Tajik citizens traveled last year to the holy lands for hajj.
“This year, only 6,300 hajj visas have been allocated by Saudi Arabia to Tajikistan,” the committee said.
Criticizing the popularity of the spiritual journey among Tajik Muslims, Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon earlier called on citizens to focus on helping the poor instead of “getting into debt or paying the last money to make such a trip.”
Hajj consists of several ceremonies, which are meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can financially afford the trip must perform hajj at least once in a lifetime. Tajikistan is one of the five Central Asian countries of the ex-Soviet Union which won independence in 1991.
Muslims constitute nearly 90 percent of Tajikistan’s 7.2 million population, according to the CIA factbook.
But under the Soviet rule, any sign of religion such as hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, or performing prayers was punishable.
Tajik Muslim women have been facing repeated attacks on religious freedoms after the government imposed a ban on hijab in schools, frowned upon the outfit in the workplace, and banished it from passport photos.
Attacks against hijab have been recurrent recently after Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon criticized women who wear “foreign” clothing
Addressing women on the occasion of Mother’s Day, marked in Tajikistan on March 8, he criticized the black veil as being associated with conservative Islam.
Despite the official ban on the hijab in schools and government offices, the Islamic garment has become a permanent fixture in the predominantly Muslim country.