Islamic Renaissance Party
Chairman: Muhiddin Kabiri
The only legally registered Islamic party anywhere in Central Asia, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) began as an underground youth movement in the Gorbachev-era, and emerged as a political party in 1990.
The IRP led the coalition opposing the government in Tajikistan’s civil war in the early 1990s. As part of the armistice reached in 1997, the party agreed to support Tajikistan’s constitution and foreswore the goal of creating an Islamic republic. Thus, it was important for the party to prove that adherence to religious values was only one piece of its platform, rather than its entire agenda.
The IRP’s strategy is to create a unique public image; it has sought not only to be involved in political and religious activities but also to take on socioeconomic projects. According to the party’s chairman, Muhiddin Kabiri (a businessman who has headed the party since 2006), the IRP deems it a religious duty to support grassroots communities in ways atypical of a political party; Kabiri believes people expect this from a religiously oriented party. In May 2010, for instance, when Kulyab (a district in southern Tajikistan) was devastated by severe flooding, party activists spent days in the area—donating money, distributing food, and cleaning up homes and streets. Through this kind of volunteerism and support—and despite the fact that it currently holds only two (out of 96) seats in the parliament—the party has been able to somewhat counteract a commonly held notion that it is a group “of terrorists and Wahhabists.”
Another unique feature of the IRP’s strategy is that it has readily adopted social media platforms, such as Facebook and YouTube, to make appeals for support for its community projects and to connect with younger generations about everyday concerns. Frequent meetings with college students and adolescents also serve to recruit supporters and volunteers.
That said, however, it cannot be denied that opposition to the party still remains in segments of the population. Some approach its community programming with reservation, speculating that the party is concealing ambitions of a future rise to power. Others accuse the IRP of having financial sources among Islamic states (while the party itself maintains that its income is purely drawn from donations and membership fees).
Still others turn to violence to express their displeasure with the party. On July 26, 2012, for example, the body of thirty-two-year-old Sabzali Mamadrizoyev, the IRP leader in Gorno-Badakhshan Province, was found. The party alleges that Mamadrizoyev was detained by law enforcement following a July 23 demonstration in the town of Khorog at which he criticized public officials; it is believed that he was taken to the Khorog border unit, badly beaten, and eventually shot. Fewer than three weeks later, on August 10, unidentified individuals attempted to burn down the party’s office in the Vahdat District by dousing the building in gasoline and lighting it on fire.