The Tajiks of Central Asia are the oldest surviving people group in that region. Their homeland, Tajikistan, is the mountainous center of Asia, surrounded by the Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Tajikistan includes the Pamir Mountains, which reach altitudes of nearly 25,000 feet. Most of the people live in the parallel valleys below.
Tajiks have repeatedly been invaded and conquered throughout their history. The armies of Alexander the Great, the Arabs in the seventh century, Genghis Khan, the Turks, the British, and the Russian empire have all had a profound impact on these people. In fact, the numerous invasions have been the major factor in the dispersion of Tajiks to other locations. Many Tajiks have crossed over into Afghanistan and are still surrounded by war, ethnic violence, religious tension, and harsh living conditions.
After the breakup of the USSR, Tajikistan still suffered through years of a civil war which ended in 1997. However, tens of thousands had been killed and thousands of wives widowed. The economy collapsed, and unemployment was extremely high, up to 70% in some rural areas.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Most Tajiks are mountain farmers and shepherds. Seasonal grasses create suitable pastures for raising sheep, goats, cattle, a few camels, and some horses. They also practice a remarkable system of terraced, mountainside irrigation so that wheat and barley can be grown at the higher, dry altitudes.
More and more Tajiks have moved to the cities over the past fifty years. Most families farm during the summer period, then return to the cities for the remainder of the year. This has resulted in an unstable work force throughout the region. A majority of the urban Tajik live in governmental housing. Rural Tajiks live instead in village communities located on non-farmable, rocky land. There they build low, square, or rectangular houses out of unbaked mud. Pressed mud bricks made with stone are used for the foundations. Flat roofs are made of tightly packed earth and twigs and are supported by mat covered beams.
Women wear colorful national costumes with printed cottons and silks, accented by flowered head scarves. They rarely wear veils; however, they do wear chaddors, which are multi-purpose shawls. The men wear shirts and trousers, sometimes with quilted robes and belts. They also wear embroidered skull caps, and some wear turbans or fur hats during the cold winter months. The upper class and city dwellers tend to wear European style clothing.
Green tea is served with most meals. Bread is a staple food, and the Tajiks bake bread out of anything that can be ground into flour, including a variety of peas and mulberries. They also eat starchy foods, rice, grapes, dried fruits, chicken, lamb, and vegetable dishes.
Tajik society is patriarchal, meaning that the authority belongs to the oldest males of the extended family. Villages and communities are ruled by a majlis, or council, made up of the male leaders of prominent families. All inheritances are passed down through the males. After marriage, a young bride lives with her new husband's family. Traditionally, marriages were arranged. Today, however, most Tajik choose their own mates.
Poetry plays an important part in Tajik culture. It is read at important celebrations and often sung. Even the Koran has been put to music.
Tajikistan is the poorest of the Central Asian nations. However, now that it is an independent republic, there is strong potential for new trade relations with Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other Islamic countries.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Nestorian missionaries first brought Christianity to the Tajiks during the 12th century. Today, Tajiks are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafite branch, although some Shi'ites exist. About one-tenth of the people are classified as non-religious. This has probably been a result of Russian atheistic pressure.
Tajiks tend to be spiritual people and are often open to at least a discussion of spiritual things. They understand the concept of sacrifice, which could be a redemptive analogy to the Lamb of God dying on the cross. However, almost all remain closed to the Gospel.
What Are Their Needs?
The JESUS Film is available and has been shown on national television. Workers are very much needed to explain the Scriptures and disciple Tajik believers.
Pray that Tajiks would not judge Christianity just as a "Russian religion," but see their own need for salvation.
Pray for an end to the persecution of believers by Muslim relatives who believe Christians betray their ancestors.
Pray that new churches would have the finances to register. This is a very expensive process.
Ask God to send revival to Penjikent (the radical Muslim center) where there are no Tajik believers.
Ask God to raise up long-term missionaries who will go to Tajikistan and share Christ with Tajiks.
Pray that the Holy Spirit will give vision for outreach and a genuine burden for the Tajiks to believers in this region.
Pray that God will open the hearts of Tajik governmental leaders to the Gospel.
Pray that God will call out prayer teams to begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among Tajiks.
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