On June 8, the emir of Qatar (its ruler) Sheikh Tamim ibn Hamad al Thani visited Tajikistan and participated in the opening ceremony of the largest mosque in the country, built in the capital Dushanbe. He was joined by Tajikistan’s president Emomali Rahmon, who showed him around and suggested naming the mosque after Imam Abu Hanifa, the founder of the Hanafi law school in Sunni Islam. The new mosque occupies 12 hectares of land and can fit 133,000 people. In addition to the prayer halls, there are also libraries, hotels, and offices within the complex.
It took ten years to complete the mosque; construction started in 2009 and ended in 2019, but the opening ceremony was postponed for four years, first due to the cancellation of the emir’s visit to Tajikistan and then the COVID-19 pandemic. The emir's presence was important given the fact that Qatar financed 70 percent of the total costs estimated at USD 100 million. Tajikistan’s government financed the rest.
Here is a tweet with photos of the new mosque.
“Imam Abu Hanifa Al-Nu'man bin Thabit Mosque”, the second largest in Central Asia, has been inaugurated today by President of #Tajikistan and Amir of #Qatar. Built by Tajik-Qatar joint sponsorship, the mosque can accomodate 133.000 people. Minarets are 74 m, dome is 43 m high.… pic.twitter.com/kbMqqBN58M
— 🇹🇷 Umut Acar (@AcarUmut) June 8, 2023
Dushanbe’s new central mosque is the second largest in Central Asia, behind the Central Mosque of Astana in Kazakhstan, which was opened in 2022. Had it been opened in 2019, as originally planned, the Tajik authorities could have unveiled it as the largest in the region. There are no doubts that this was the government’s intention, as Tajikistan has previously unveiled several other buildings with superlative adjectives in front of them.
The country is a host to the tallest flagpole in the world, erected in 2011 and registered in the Guinness Book of Records. It is located in the center of Dushanbe and stands at 165 meters high. The government hired the American firm “Trident Support” to build the flagpole in 2010. At its opening ceremony, the country’s president Rahmon stated that the flagpole will serve as a pride of every citizen.
Here is a YouTube video about the construction of Tajikistan's flagpole.
The world’s largest chaikhana, a type of traditional tea house found in Central Asia, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Azerbaijan, is also located in Dushanbe. The Kohi Nawruz Palace is 46 meters high and 120 meters wide. It has 12 large halls, which are used for holding weddings and other festivities, as well as conferences and high-level meetings. It has been open since 2010 and cost around USD 60 million to build.
Here is a YouTube video with the Kohi Nawruz Palace.
Last, but not least, Dushanbe is home to the largest library in Central Asia. Built in 2012, the National Library of Tajikistan occupies 45,000 square meters. The authorities started building it in 2007, and the total costs amounted to more than USD 40 million. The library can fit up to 10 million books.
Here is a tweet with the photo of the National Library of Tajikistan.
— BusinessCentralAsia (@BCAmagazine) April 17, 2023
Tajikistan building all these buildings is all the more striking given the fact that it is the poorest country in Central Asia. The reason the government spends large funds on such projects may lie in its authoritarian nature. Tajikistan has been ruled by the same president since 1992, and Freedom House classifies it as a “consolidated authoritarian regime” with a democracy score of one out of seven.
In contrast to democracies, authoritarian regimes are known to invest more funds in extreme infrastructural projects instead of tackling actual social and economic problems. First, such a strategy allows them to garner a positive image among people. Second, infrastructural projects are physically present and can be shown as a tangible result of government’s work. Third, building mosques, libraries, or tea houses is a lot easier and faster than addressing complex issues that require a comprehensive approach and adoption of good-governance principles such as transparency and accountability.