Tajikistan’s government is mulling a ban on Arabic names

Men pray at a mosque in the village of Nurabad, some 40 km (25 miles) west of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.
Men pray at a mosque in the village of Nurabad, some 40 km (25 miles) west of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.
Image: Reuters/Nozim Kalandarov
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In the ongoing battle that could be known as Tajikistan vs. Islam, Islam has taken some low blows lately: police nabbing bearded men on the street and submitting them to the razor; state television instructing viewers that women who wear hijab are prostitutes.

The latest target in the Muslim-majority country is Muslim-sounding names.

Under instructions from president Emomali Rahmon, Tajikistan’s rubber-stamp parliament is considering a bill that would forbid the justice ministry from registering names it thinks sound too Arabic, the deputy head of the ministry’s department of civil registry, Jaloliddin Rahimov, told Interfax on May 4.

“After the adoption of these regulations, the registry offices will not register names that are incorrect or alien to the local culture, including names denoting objects, flora and fauna, as well as names of Arabic origin,” Interfax quotes Rahimov as saying.

Though the law would not apply to existing names, only to babies born after it is signed, Interfax suggests some parliamentarians are demanding everyone with an Arab-sounding name pick a new, more Tajik-sounding one.

If parents cannot come up with a name on their own, the justice ministry is preparing a list of recommended names. It’s unclear if there will be a list for minorities, such as ethnic Uzbeks, who make up approximately 15% of the population.

All of this is part of Rahmon’s ongoing secularization campaign, which he has stepped up in response to increasing Islamic devotion and fears that Tajikistan’s disenfranchised and poverty-stricken villages are becoming recruiting grounds for Islamic militants.

The effectiveness of such measures might be debatable. Besides, the name bill casts such a wide net that, if taken literally, it could catch the country’s biggest fish: the president. Emomali is a version of Imam Ali, prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law, the fourth caliph for Sunnis and the first imam for Shia Muslims.

Then again, names can be changed. Rahmon used to be Rahmonov, but that was too Russian-sounding.