No More Teachers, No More Books

no more teachers no more booksTajikistan wants to teach Islam to its  children, in its own way. But critics say the effort is hobbled by  paranoia and corruption.

DUSHANBE | When Nozigul Khasanova learned that courses in Islam  were  going to be introduced in Tajikistan’s secondary schools last  year, she  welcomed the news.

Khasanova, who lives in the west near Dushanbe, said she had always   wanted her 16-year-old son to know about the religion and that a course   taught in public schools could help “keep children away from various   radical groups.”

But the roll-out has been a disappointment. “The school’s physical   education teacher occasionally gives lessons [on Islam],” she said. “He   was picked because he goes to the mosque and has read several booklets   on Islam.”

Education officials’ ambitious plans have fallen into the gap  between  intentions and reality. Authorities blame a shortage of  qualified  teachers. Other say the pool of instructors would be larger  if the  schools were willing to employ imams or more people who have  studied the  Koran in Arab countries.

In the meantime, school children are learning from unqualified instructors and some schools still offer no such courses.

Islamic studies were introduced in line with President Imomali Rahmon’s directive to honor Abu Hanifa, an eighth-century imam who enumerated the Hanafi laws of Sunni Islam. His 1,310th birthday was marked by public festivities in Tajikistan in 2009.

An education official in the southern Khalton region, speaking on   condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation from the Education   Ministry,  said teachers of Islam are required to know the Koran,  including its  earliest versions. They also must know the difference  between suras, or  chapters of the Koran, and hadiths, which depict  episodes in the life  or the words of Muhammad.

But he said there are few scholars who fit the bill, “and they don’t   want to work in schools because teachers get paid so little and they   would find it immoral to constantly beg students’ parents for money.”

He said some principals manage to improvise, but “Islam is not yet   being taught in most schools.” Nor, he said, has a uniform syllabus been   developed or textbooks printed. In July 2009, Tajik Education Minister   Abdujabbor Rahmonov said a textbook on the subject was in the works  and  would be released before the end of the following month. Education   officials said the textbook has not yet been published “for unknown   reasons” and would not comment on the minister’s promises.

Rahmonov told a teachers’ conference in Dushanbe in August 2009 that   schools had as many as 1,440 vacancies. Education officials blame  staff  shortages on the low salaries of teachers, who are paid about 250   somoni ($50) per month on average, according to the ministry.

The country has about two dozen teacher training schools, and an   official with the Khujand University rector’s office who spoke on   condition of anonymity said more than 800 teachers graduated from that   university alone in 2010. Nationwide,  the number was about 2,000. He  said most were offered jobs at schools  in Tajikistan’s northern Sogd  region, one of the impoverished country’s  most economically developed  areas.

To address teacher shortages, Nurullo Giyasov, dean of Khujand    University’s Language Faculty, suggested that schools invite in imams,   many of whom he said would be willing to teach for free, seeing it as an   opportunity to increase their flock. Giyasov said several graduates of   his school’s Arab language department teach Islam in schools, but he   acknowledged that the need is much greater.

But some Tajiks eager to teach the subject say their efforts are blocked by the ministry.

Parviz Radzhabov studied Islam in Yemen but he cannot find a teaching   job and temporarily works as a merchant at a food market in   Qurgonteppa, a city south of the capital. He applied for jobs at   mosques, madrasas, and secondary schools but, he said, “many employers   are suspicious of those trained in Arab countries. They view them as   terrorists.”

The government and media of Tajikistan are controlled by a small   group of relatives and associates close to the president. Although some   parts of the mountainous country, which borders Afghanistan, are   effectively out of Dushanbe’s grasp, the authorities keep a watchful eye   out for those they consider potential jihadists or Islamists. For the   past couple of months, government troops have been sporadically fighting what the government says are Islamist militants in the central Rasht   Valley but what others say are the remnants of the other side in the   country’s civil war in the mid-1990s.

Radzhabov said he has been trying to conceal his foreign Islamic   education lately for fear of “problems that some religious people have,   especially those holding degrees from foreign Islamic centers.” He said   that women wearing hijabs “are not allowed to trade in the neighboring   market, while market owners threatened to impose a fine of 100 somoni   [about $23] on those wearing religious clothing.”

Many of Radzhabov’s friends would prefer to study Islam in   Tajikistan, he said, but “there are few theological schools in the   country, while most young people know nothing about the existing ones.”   He suggested that Dushanbe’s Islamic University and other schools   promote their services to attract applicants, “inform [people] about   their courses and teachers’ qualifications and open branches all over   the country. But there is nothing of the kind here. The government bans a   lot of things but doesn’t offer anything in return – this is one of  the  sources of possible tensions in society.”

In speeches this summer, Rahmon urged Tajiks to persuade their   children studying at foreign religious centers to come home to study at   Dushanbe’s Islamic University or one of the country’s dozen theological   schools. He also promised that the Committee on Religious Affairs,  which  oversees religious organizations in Tajikistan, “will send as  many  youths as our country needs to study at foreign madrasas [that] do  not  teach various terrorist and extremist doctrines.”

Mavlon Mukhtor, deputy chairman of the religious affairs committee,   told reporters that of the more than 1,400 students studying at madrasas   elsewhere in the Muslim world, about 50 returned home after the   president made his appeal.

A survey conducted last year sheds light on why so few students took   up his offer. In mid-2009, a group of Tajik journalists asked about   3,000 high school students and graduates here about their plans for the   future. Nagris Muhammadi, a member of the group, said the answers   suggested that the country’s long-standing and pervasive corruption have   disillusioned many young people.

Muhammadi said many young Muslims told the pollsters that they “do   not plan to study in Tajikistan’s official education establishments or   plan to stop attending classes there. They believe that the education   system is plagued by nepotism and one cannot study without bribes,   whereas Muslims consider [corruption] a sin.” Many of those wearing   religious clothing do not feel comfortable in Tajikistan “because others   pay too much – unhealthy, in their opinion – attention to their   clothing and behavior,” Muhammadi said. Many of those young people would   prefer to study religion on their own or at Islamic centers in the   Middle East, he said.

Giyasov, of Khujand University’s Language Faculty, noted that   countries across Central Asia are struggling with a shortage of Islam   teachers and the lack of a religious syllabus suited to contemporary   life. He said the solution lies in regional efforts. “There’s no need   for every country to begin training highly specialized staff like   instructors of Islam,” Giyasov said.

Meanwhile, students at many schools in Tajikistan do not even know that the new subject exists. Khurshed Iskandarshoyev, an 11th-grader   in the town of Khorog, in the southeastern autonomous region of   Gorno-Badakhshan, is among them. He said that several years ago he “had   classes on the history of different religions, but they probably did  not  have enough teachers because various teachers, for instance  industrial  arts, geography, and literature instructors, taught the  subject, with  big gaps between when the classes were offered.”

Farrukh Ahrorov is chairman of the Media Group & Mercy journalists association in Tajikistan. Home page image from a United Nations video.




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