“Please is there anyone going to Dushanbe?” asked 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 anyone has a visa problem with visa?” That was the first impression I got of this central Asian country, and former colony of the Soviet Union until 1991. Tajikistan is one of the countries called CIS, or the Commonwealth of Independent States comprising of 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 vibrant 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, how are you?” I replied, his expression deceiving me into thinking he didn’t understand what I said. Then he looked at me again and said in Arabic, “Min aina anta” meaning “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 spoke, even though his outlook suggested something different from the language he spoke 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).
Our conversation continued until we reached our destination in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. The young man, 27, told me he is from Dushanbe, and is currently studying Arabic and the Islamic sciences in Egypt. He looks simple, friendly and proud of his culture, faith and country, a quality that I found to be common among the inhabitants of Tajikistan.
The conversation with this young man became the gateway to understanding the country I was visiting for the first time. Throughout the period Tajikistan was under the occupation of the Soviet Union, religion was banned. People could neither worship in the mosque nor visit the church. Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the mosques are now full. Other religions are free to practice. Although the Tajik people are spread across other countries, including neighboring 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, 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 had 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 16 May, 2013 and visiting few places, I looked forward to Friday, which I thought would 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 here.
To be continued…