Monday, 27 May 2013

(59): Faith, civilisation and diversity (I)

Imam Abu Hanifa Mosque in Dushanbe
“Please is there anyone going to Dushanbe,” said a gentleman standing before us at the Dubai International Airport, “I am the Consulate-General of Tajikistan, this week there are many people going to Dushanbe, so I have relocated my office to the airport to ensure that people travel without any difficulty, does any of you have a problem with visa?” This was the first impression I got of this central Asian country, former colony of the Soviet Union until 1991. Tajikistan is one of the countries called CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) comprising other countries like Uzbekistan, Kyrgystan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

These countries have mixed heritage. They are predominantly Muslim, lived under the Soviet Union, and are now recovering from the disintegration of the Soviet Union to build a new economy. As we boarded the Somon Airline, while cruising through the sky, the clouds waving and the night gradually setting in, the man sitting by my side said “Assalamu Alaikum”, Wa alaikumussalam, I replied. How are you? his expression told me that he doesn’t understand what I was saying. Then he looked again and said in Arabic “min aina anta” where are you from? And I replied “min Nijeriya”, from Nigeria, I responded, surprised by the quality of his Arabic, and the authority with which he speaks, even though his outlook suggests something different from the language he speaks so eloquently. I quickly asked him “wa min aina anta” where are you from? and with a beautiful smile on his face, adjusting his chair and relaxing his seat-belt, he answered “ana min Tajikistan”, I am from Tajikistan.

Suddenly, a conversation erupted between us until we reached our destination in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. The young man, 27, told me that he is from Dushanbe the capital of Tajikistan, and he is currently studying Arabic and the Islamic sciences in Egypt. He looks simple, friendly and proud of his culture, faith and country. A quality I found to be common among the inhabitants of Tajikistan.

The conversation with this young man became the gateway to understand the country I am visiting for the first time. Throughout the period Tajikistan was under the occupation of the Soviet Union, religion was banned. People can neither worship in the mosque nor visit the church. Yet twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the mosques are full. Other religions are free to practice. Although the Tajik people are spread across other countries, including their neighbor Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, they are proud of something unique. They produced Imam Al-Bukhari, the compiler of the most authentic narrations of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In fact you have to pass through Bukhara (the birth place of Imamul Bukhari; a city I pray to visit one day God willing) before you arrive in Tajikistan. They are proud of other big names as well, such as Imam Al Tirmidhy another great complier of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) as well as Imam Abu Hanifa, upon whose work the Hanafi school of thought was built.

Few minutes before midnight our flight landed in Dushanbe, the capital city. Our delegation was well received. The faces of the people were glittering with smiles, their hospitality and humility was exceptional. Dushanbe is a beautiful city. The roads are wide, decorated by flowers, the street lights beaming everywhere, and the silence of the night beautifying the journey with slight singing from the birds, as the city retires to bed.

While discussing with the young man on the plane, I enquired about the most interesting things to find in Tajikistan. I tried to confirm from him some of the stories I read or heard from people. One of them was their style of memorizing the Qur’an. A friend has told me that in Tajikistan they memorise the Qur’an with the number of verses, and the page of the copy of the Qur’an they use during the memorization process. I also wanted to know about their educational system and how it is structured after the Soviet Union.

The young man confirmed my story about the memorization of the Qur’an, but the curiosity in me wanted to find out more. After having some rest on Thursday, May 16, 2013 and visiting few places, I was looking forward to Friday, which I thought will be an opportunity to find out more about this great people, their culture and civilization. Before retiring to bed on Thursday, we visited a local Indian restaurant. One thing you will notice in Tajikistan is the art that decorates their public infrastructure, which is common with Persians. I must confess, I ate one of the most delicious Shawarma, and Lasi juice.

To be continued…

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