Fri, 21 Jun 2019

ASHGABAT -- Religious sermons in Turkmenistan's state-controlled mosques often find a way to praise the president and wish him health and success.

But imams in the authoritarian state appear to be taking things a step further this year by urging their flocks to curse enemies of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov in their Ramadan prayers, a call that contradicts the values of the Muslim holy month.

An RFE/RL correspondent that attended prayers in several mosques in the capital said that one imam called on his congregation to love the president and to pray for the downfall of his foes.

"May Allah save [the president] from all misfortunes and may his enemies fall at his feet," the correspondent, who works in anonymity due to tight restrictions on journalists and fear of repercussions, recalled the imam saying on May 17.

The correspondent reported that the sermon began with tributes to Berdymukhammedov, who is referred to as Arkadag, the protector, in Turkmen.

The new Hezreti Omar Mosque in Ashgabat

"The imam pointed out that all our achievements and happy life are due to the wise policies of Arkadag," the correspondent said.

"The imam prayed to God that he grant Berdymukhammedov good health and long life, that Allah save him from all troubles and misfortunes, and that God punish all his enemies and foes."

Like all other institutions in Turkmenistan, mosques operate under strict government control, imams are appointed by the state, and sermons are approved by authorities.

In the isolated country, officials and ordinary people alike avoid speaking to foreign media out of fear of reprisal.

RFE/RL's correspondent said the mosque-goers he spoke to felt unease about the calls to curse the president's enemies, but that voicing criticism was not an option.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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