Tajiks - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Most religiously minded Tajiks belong to the Sunni sect, and within this to the Hanafi juridical school. Small, isolated groups, especially among the Pamir peoples of Iranian but not Tajik language, are devotees of Isma'ili Shiism, and yet a smaller portion follow the Ithna Ash'ari sect. As such, with the exception of Bukharan Jews, Slavs, other Christian-associated groups, and the urban-dwelling Koreans, the people of Tajikistan generally follow Islamic belief patterns. Belief in the supernatural, outside of formal Islam, falls into several categories: curative customs, fortune-telling, and ascription of bad fortune to the power of fate or of evil beings called jinn.

Religious Practitioners. Strong evidence exists of the growth of Islamic practice among rural Tajiks, particularly the educated leadership on collective farms. In the absence of formal religious schools within Tajikistan (such as are found in Uzbekistan), individual Tajiks demonstrate a surprising familiarity with formal Islamic theological and juridical doctrine, owing in part to unregistered mullahs, Sufi brotherhoods, and a special category of half-Sufi-half-shaman; about a dozen shrines to saints are major religious centers (Bennigsen and Wimbush 1986, 91). Fasting during Ramadan, and especially the fast-breaking feast of Eid-e Fitr are popular and more public than in earlier years. Family ownership of a copy of the Quran is valued despite the lack of facilities for instruction in its contents. Informal teachers not recognized by the state or the Spiritual Directorate of Central Asia and Kazakhstan in Tashkent function throughout society on a semisecret level.

Ceremonies. Rites of passage include circumcision of male children, marriage, and funerals. Holidays include the Islamic Eid-e Qorban and Eid-e Fitr, as well as Nowruz, the traditional Iranian new year celebrated at the vernal equinox.

Arts. Literature, especially poetry rooted in the brilliant classical culture that Tajiks share with other Iranian peoples, is foremost among traditional Tajik arts. Architectural decoration ( gach kari ), carpet weaving, metal decoration, embroidery, and calligraphy have continued to be valued, although all these arts have acquired some level of Soviet content to conform with political dictates. In the fields of music, dance, and theater, innovations are widespread as Western arts have been introduced and local arts have been adapted.

Medicine. Tajik medicine, like other medicine in Central Asia, falls into two branches: the Western-oriented branch represented by the Gastrointestinal and Chemistry Institutes of the Tajik Academy of Sciences established in 1955, and the traditions of folk medicine passed within particular families by word of mouth but based also on written works of medieval scientists such as Ibn Sina. The two branches have drawn closer together as the herbal cures offered by folk medicine have become the object of study of the scientific institutions and the medical properties of cumin and the like have been recognized.

Death and Afterlife. Formal ideas of death follow either the nonreligious pattern or the Islamic one. It is customary for funeral proceedings for Tajik Communists to be conducted according to Muslim custom and for the burial to take place in a Muslim cemetery. Among the traditional populace, the afterlife is firmly held to be a time for reward and punishment for conduct in the present life.

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