Author: Khakim Abdulo Rakhnamo
Evolution of Secular Attitude to Religion
Constitutional declaration of the secular state is one of the basic peculiarities of new national states formation in the territory of the former USSR. In the center of struggle for power and for the establishment of its major ideological aspects Tajikistan also encountered the secular state problem. This problem became the subject of multiple disputes between the Tajikistani political forces at the final stage of the reconciliation process, especially during the work of the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) in 1997–1999.
The analysis of the confrontation and compromise pursuit between the Tajikistani political forces as to the ideological aspects of political power reveals the four main points of the inter-Tajikistani ideological conflict. The supporters of the secular side in the person of the Government considered the following two problems as significant: 1. Does the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) accept the secular nature of the Tajikistani state? 2. Will the UTO stay loyal to the national state system or, as a number of contemporary Islamic political groups, introduce a question of an international Islamic state establishment? The Islamic administration of the UTO considered the following problems as significant: 1. Will there be a change in the Government position regarding the principle problem of separating religion from the state system? Will the Government allow legalization of political Islam, i. e. the activity of a religious political party?
These problems were vital for both sides and primarily determined the outcome of the Tajikistan national reconciliation process. The chronological aspect of this problem solution has been investigated in a number of works by the author and therefore will not be described in this article. However, it should be noted that an important part of this process is the evolution of the starting positions of the parties and the achievement of an entirely new level of this problem perception in contemporary Tajikistan.
The analysis of Tajikistani Constitution of 1994 and the political literature of that period reveals quite a narrow and limited interpretation of secularity in the political environment of that time. For example, the governing “secular” side did not at the time approve of religious political activity legalization and religious party participation in the political processes. However, the comparison of the Constitution of 1994 with the amended Constitution of 1999, as well as political literature of these periods leads us to the conclusion that the attitude of the “secular” side regarding the key ideological aspects had changed for tolerance and pragmatism.
The first significant step in the evolution of “secular” side towards the comprehension of the secular state essence was taken by President E. Rakhmon. In 1999 speculating upon the various aspects of the secular state he came to the conclusion that the secular state may allow for the political activity of a religious party. He wrote: “As a rule the secular state is considered as something that denies the political activity of religious parties. However, history knows a number of facts when religious parties successfully acted within the political space of secular states. Such examples can be found in many democratic countries in Europe and Asia.” Thus, the opinion of the Tajikistan Republic President laid the basis for the evolution of the secular side’s attitude to this problem.
However, the President’s theoretical advance in the comprehension of the essence of the secular state did not find support and understanding on the part of other participants of the “secular bloc”. After the publication of E. Rakhmon’s article on the secular state and religious parties coexistence on May 23, 1998, the Parliament of the Tajik Republik enacted the Federal Political Parties Act. Article 4 of this Act prohibited the establishment of religious political parties.
The enactment of the new Political Parties Act put the whole reconciliation process in jeopardy as the prohibition of political religious parties undermined the basis for the functioning of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) — the Government’s key reconciliation process partner. As a result the IRPT’s participation in the reconciliation process became meaningless. Thus, the enforcement of this Act led to a deep political crisis in the country. This event is considered one of the most difficult moments in the Tajik reconciliation process after the enforcement of the General Peace Agreement in June 1997.
Realizing the necessity to save and keep the reconciliation process and to allow the activity of religious political parties within the secular state, Tajikistani President did not change his opinion and set a veto on the new Political Parties Act. Consequently a commission was formed to elaborate a new version of the Act that would allow for the activity of religious political parties. The membership in this commission was distributed between the representatives of the Government, Parliament and UTO. Thus, in compliance with the new version of the Federal Tajikistani Political Parties Act the Tajikistani citizens were given right to establish religious political parties. Such outcome was of great importance for the continuation of Tajikistani reconciliation process, and for the political administration of the Islamic opposition it meant a guarantee for the continuous existence and activity within the secular state.
Another important step in the understanding of secularity and the secular state was the enforcement of amendments and corrections to the Constitution of the Tajikistan Republic which took place during the national public referendum of September 26, 1999. During the preparation of this document the Tajikistani parties within the National Reconciliation Commission encountered a problem to find a practical mechanism which would allow for the coexistence of the secular and the religious within a single political and legal frame.
The new edition of the Constitution was developed by the National Reconciliation Commission and resulted as a compromise between the Government and the opposition on such vital points as the secular state, relations between the state and religion, political Islam legalization, role and functions of a religious political party, etc. Thus, the new edition of the Tajikistani Constitution created the ideological, legal and political frames for the coexistence of the secular and religious positions in a single legal and political system, namely: Article 1 retained the secular essence of the state; Article 8 replaced the traditional principle of the total separation of church from the state with a more tolerable “separation of religious organizations from the stare”; Article 8 also guaranteed “political and ideological pluralism” and eliminated the establishment of state ideology; Article 26 guaranteed the freedom of conscience, as well as the religious rights of the citizens; Article 28 guaranteed the establishment of religious political parties; Article 100 declared the unchanged secular essence of the state.
Consideration of these articles of the Tajikistani Constitution as elements of a single legal and political construction shows that the National Reconciliation Commission really worked out a special secular state model outstanding in its flexibility and potential. The main peculiarity of this model is that while keeping the secular essence of the state it creates legal and political frames for the activity of political Islam in the form of a legal activity of a religious political party.
The achievement of this pragmatic understanding of secularity and the secular state proves again that during the reconciliation process the attitude of the “secular side” experienced a deep constructive evolution on vital ideological issues. This evolution laid a foundation for mutual trust of the parties and created an ideological basis for peace and national consent in Tajikistan.
Evolution of Religious Attitude to Secularity
Together with the evolution of the initial attitude of the secular side to the ideological aspects of the contemporary political processes in Tajikistan, it is also interesting to trace the position of the Islamic opposition on the same point. The comparison of the initial position of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) administration on ideological political power aspects with their position on the same issues in 1999–2000 shows that their view of the secularity and the secular state had also underwent considerable changes towards tolerance and pragmatism.
When the civil conflict entered the military phase and acquired the ideological coloring of a “secular-Islamic” confrontation, the issue of the ideological aspect of political power became especially important in the position of the UTO administration. In the period of 1994–1997 the UTO went through the phase of active Islamization, and the civil war in Tajikistan was interpreted as a confrontation between Islamic and non-Islamic (secular) forces. During that stage the UTO leaders started using the following “sacred war” terminology describing their struggle: jihad, mujahidin, shakhid (martyr), hegira (immigration for the sake of Islam), fath (discovery, conquest). This interpretation of war and the corresponding terminology are fully reflected in the official documents, public speeches and declarations of the UTO leaders, as well as in the pro-oppositional literature in 1994–1998.
In 1997–1998 the position of the Islamic opposition on the ideological aspects of political power in Tajikistan acquired more specific shapes and entered the phase of theoretical perception and political formation. At this stage the UTO administration officially introduced a motion to remove the term “secular” from the Constitution of the Tajikistan Republic.
The core peculiarity of the “Islamic bloc” position towards the secular state at the early stages of the reconciliation process consisted in that the UTO leaders regarded and interpreted the “secular state” as a political regime limiting the rights of the believers where “religious citizens and organizations did not have the right for political activity and political participation.” However, the comparison of the UTO positions on this issue at the different stages of the inter-Tajikistani conflict shows that with extension of the reconciliation process and especially during the combined work within the frames of the National Reconciliation Commission, these positions became more tolerant and pragmatic.
The evolution of the UTO views on this issue was completed in three stages: theoretical, legal and political and practical. The essence of the theoretical stage of the UTO ideological views evolution consisted in that there was laid a ideological and theoretical basis for the coexistence of Islam and the secular state. As was mentioned above, in the years of the civil confrontation the UTO administration had promoted the idea of sacred was and Islamic society to their supporters. One of the elements of this propaganda was an idea of struggle against secularity and the secular state. Therefore the UTO administration could not accept the position of “Islam and secular state compatibility” without the corresponding preparation of their supporters. Thus, before taking distinct political, legal and practical steps towards the coexistence with “the secular”, the UTO ideologists had to prepare a theoretical basis for it.
The peculiarities of this stage which was characterized as the UTO transformation in understanding secularity and the secular state can be traced in by the theoretical and religious works of the former leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan M. Khimmatzoda. In 1998–1999 he published a series of popular science articles in which he described a relatively new conception of the relations between Islam and the secular state. The following articles were the most important in the formation of the opposition’s new approach to the “secular” problem: Of Reconcilability of the Secular State and Religious Party Activity, Secularity as It Is Seen by Christianity and Islam, Islam and the Modern State System, etc.
The analysis of M. Khimmatzoda’s and other Islamic leaders’ works on the attitude of Islam to secularity and the secular state shows that the main points of their position on this issue consist in the following:
- the notion of the secular state is not contrary in its meaning to the notion of the Islamic state, as its emergence was connected with the reaction of the European society to the activities of the medieval Christian theocratic states in Europe, particularly inquisition;
- in the political conception if Islam the head of the state is not a sacred person or agent of God, but is considered a secular person responsible for the solution of the problems of Islamic society. Therefore political power, as it is interpreted by Islam, is not theocratic, but secular in its essence;
Islamic shariat does not require of the believers to form a special model of a theocratic Islamic state, and such activity is not part of Muslims’ duties;
- the models like “khilafat”, “amorat”, etc. are not obligatory “theological models” of power in Islam, but represent a historical experience of state practices in a number of countries with Muslim population. An “Islamic model” can be considered any form of government (including presidential and parliamentary republic) where social justice and truth, the rights and liberties are secured.
- Islam and Islamic mode of life are compatible with the secular state and may lead a normal life and activities within the frames of the secular state.
These theses supported by deep argumentation on the basis of the Islamic shariat doctrine practically laid the ideological and theoretical basis for the further evolution of the UTO position on this issue and created an ideological foundation for their coexistence with the secular state. Although such approach to the problem of Islam and the secular state inter-relations had already been worked out in the works of a number of foreign Islamic philosophers, the UTO leaders managed to adapt this theory to the Tajikistani realities and complement the necessary elements to it that reflected the specificity of the local religious and political consciousness. These attempts to form an ideological basis for the coexistence of Islam and the secular state played an important role in the solution of the “secular-Islamic” component of the Tajik conflict.
After the formation of the ideological and theoretical basis for the coexistence with the secular state the Islamic opposition leaders started to take a number of political and legal steps in this direction, which constituted the second stage of the evolution of their position on this issue. In the process of the discussion of the notion of “secularity”, which was the subject of over 30 sessions of the National Reconciliation Commission from May 1998 to June 1999, a vital agreement was reached that in exchange for the Constitutional guarantee of the religious political parties activity the UTO will remove its veto on the retention of the “secular” term within the context of the Tajikistani Constitution. The joint project of the amendments and corrections to the Constitution of Tajikistan, which was worked out within the frames of the National Reconciliation Commission and brought to the national public referendum of September 26, 1999, shows that the Islamic UTO leaders agreed to keep the secular essence of the Tajikistani state and also to keep this principle unchanged.
This position of the Islamic leaders was later stated in the Charter and Program of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan which was officially registered at the end of 1999. The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan in its Charter declares its loyalty to the Constitution of the Tajikistan Republic and the current legislation of Tajikistan which is secular in its essence and application. Thus, the problem of the coexistence of Islam and the secular state found its ideological, theoretical, political and legal solution on the level of Islamic political forces.
However, another important ideological issue was the position of the Islamic political forces towards the “national state”. The core of the problem was whether the UTO would stay loyal to the national state system as a foreign relations unit or, as a number of contemporary Islamic political groups, introduce a question of an international Islamic state establishment. In the contemporary Tajikistan this problem was especially acute due to the following factors:
1. The idea of the reconstruction of the national state became “a historical pain of the Tajik people” and acquisition of the state independence is considered a vital event in the contemporary history. In this respect the formation of a political force contradicting to the “national state” principle would have deepened the political crisis and would have been considered as a real threat to the existence of the state of Tajikistan.
2. Meanwhile in Central Asia a radical Islamic party Hizb-ut-Tahrir gained popularity. The official aim of the party was the foundation of a transnational Islamic state “khilafat” which can be possible only after the overthrow of the national states in the region.
3. During the civil war years the UTO leaders initiated ideological and structural contacts with certain ideological and political centers of the Islamic world. Thus, the chances were high that within the UTO organization there were elements of the pan-Islamic transnational ideas of the state and society formation. This aspect was particularly obvious when the UTO established connections with the Afghanistan Islamic groups and the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan, thus forming the frames of the collective “Islamic responsibility” for the future of Central Asia.
In this respect the position of the UTO administration was a serious worry for the Government and the whole society. Realizing the importance of this issue for its future functioning as a legal political structure in Tajikistan, the UTO leaders declared their loyalty to the national state and stated that the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan was “a nation-wide party and its activity is restricted by the territory of the Tajikistan Republic.” According to Article 2.1 of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, only the citizens of Tajikistan can become members of the party.
One of the most difficult aspects of the UTO nationalization was expelling the “Uzbek legion” from structural membership. During the civil war as a sign of Islamic sympathy the political administration and military groups of the Uzbekistan Islamic opposition were integrated into the UTO and took part in the military struggle of the Tajik opposition. In 1997–1998 the bases of the Islamic militants were located not only in the territory of Afghanistan, but also in the Tajikistani regions under the control of the UTO. However, during the reconciliation process the UTO administration undertook an obligation to expel all the Uzbek military groups from its membership and to discontinue its military and political cooperation with the Islamic movement in Uzbekistan. In 1999–2000 the political administration and the combat leader of the UTO directly participated in the extrusion of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan forces from the territory of Tajikistan. Thus, taking the abovementioned political and legal steps the administration of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan officially drifted away from the supernational positions and accepted the nation-wide activity frames.
Dismissal of transnational projects and the UTO loyalty to the nation-wide state activities found their continuation in the political tendencies of the contemporary administration of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan. These aspects are considered to be the key differences between the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan and the radical party Hizb-ut-Tahrir. The new leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan declared that “unlike Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the Islamic Renaissance Party is not a transnational party and maintains its activities only within the frames of Tajikistan and within the legal frames of the Constitution.”
The third stage in the evolution of the Tajik political Islam relations with the secular state was the stage of practical coexistence. After the formation of ideological, legal and political platform Tajik political Islam enters the stage of practical legal political activity within the secular state. The participation of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan in the Parliamentary elections of 2000 and 2005 and a gradual transformation of the party from a military movement into a political parliamentary party turned it into an element of the new political structure of Tajik society.
Thus, the analysis of these three stages shows that during the peaceful negotiations, during the National Reconciliation Commission activity and also at the stage of the peaceful agreements implementation the position of the Islamic opposition administration on the issues of secularity, the secular state and the national state experienced a deep transformation towards tolerance and pragmatism. This evolution allowed the Islamic political forces to gradually integrate into the political structure of modern Tajik society and become its natural full-fledged constituent.