August 1, 2013

Increasing Religious Tolerance in Tajikistan

A 2011 International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) participant, Hotam Fayzulloev was inspired by the relationships he saw in the U.S. between people of different faiths. “After I saw the lives of Muslims in America with my own eyes, I wished that other Muslims could live like [those] in America. That is, far from war and persecution.” As Senior Specialist at the Government of Tajikistan’s Committee of Youth Affairs, Hotam has already worked toward building mutual understanding for youth. But after his exchange, he returned to Tajikistan committed to broadening understanding with a focus on religious tolerance.

Hotam actively writes and publishes articles in local newspapers on religious understanding, civil society, and the United States. Some of his articles include: “Religious Tolerance in American Catholic Schools” and “Tolerant Islam in America”. In addition to an impressive dossier of articles, Hotam is also the author of a book titled “America and Civil Society.”

When he is not working to create a better understanding of the United States in Tajikistan, Hotam collaborates with other alumni of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affair’s exchange programs. In 2011, he organized a country-wide conference in Dushanbe called “Religion, Tolerance, and Community in America.” Funded by grants provided by the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe, the conference featured U.S. Ambassador Kenneth E. Gross, Jr. and several IVLP alumni, including imams and religious educators. The following year, Hotam reached out to community leaders in Isfara, one of Tajikistan’s more religiously conservative cities, and hosted a conference on “The Prevention of Fundamentalism and other Social Extremism among Youth.”

Hotam actively supports other IVLP alumni in the implementation of their own democracy outreach projects. In celebration of the 20th anniversary of IVLP in Tajikistan, he organized Tajikistan’s first IVLP networking event. Hotam also established a new IVLP Council, which meets regularly to discuss issues of importance to IVLP alumni.

Hotam reflects that participating in the IVLP greatly influenced his personal and political outlook, “I was surprised how people from different religions live together amicably, and [I] wanted Central Asian countries to discover that,” he said. “I conveyed all my thoughts and experiences through my articles and my book, and continue to work on this theme.”

Through his writings on Muslim communities in the United States and conferences on tolerance and religion, Hotam continues to work dispelling misconceptions about religious intolerance in the United States. He continues to be an authentic voice for religious tolerance in Tajikistan.

Each month, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Alumni Affairs Division, which supports alumni as they build on their exchange experiences, recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna. Throughout August, Hotam Fayzulloev is that outstanding alumnus and his work will be recognized on the International Exchange Alumni website, ECA’s official website which caters to over one million Department-sponsored exchange alumni worldwide.