Introduction / History Tajiks, a large Central Asian people group, are concentrated primarily in Afghanistan and the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Another significant group of Tajiks also live in Russia. Tajiks are an Indo-Iranian people with light skin and black hair. Intermarriage with surrounding peoples has greatly influenced their features, making it difficult to recognize them by appearance. Their language, called Tajiki, consists of numerous dialects of the Persian language, Farsi.
Tajiks are the oldest people group in Central Asia. Their homeland was historically the center of trade routes, due to the fact that the Europeans and Arabs traded with the Indians and Chinese. Their strategic location has given the Tajiks a history of oppression by and servitude to other peoples. They have been conquered by numerous groups, including the armies of Alexander the Great, the Arabs, the Mongols, the Russian Empire, and the Soviet Union.
What are their lives like? Tajiks were traditionally rural farmers and herdsmen. They raised such livestock as horses, cattle, sheep, goats, and camels. Their farms were located on irrigated terraces on the sides of mountains, with major crops being wheat and barley. In the last fifty years, Tajiks have become increasingly more urban. In the cities, they are involved in modern occupations and live in concrete, Soviet-style apartment buildings.
Tajik women usually wear flowered head scarves and colorful native clothing made of printed silk and cotton. They seldom wear veils, but occasionally wear chaddars, which are multi-purpose Islamic shawls. Men traditionally wore embroidered skullcaps, shirts, and trousers, sometimes with quilted and belted robes or coats. In urban areas, Western-style clothing is worn.
Bread is the staple food, and Tajiks make bread out of anything that can be ground into flour, including peas and mulberries. They also eat rice, grapes, dried fruits, chicken, mutton, and vegetable dishes. A favorite dish is called pilaf. It is made of fried or sautéed mutton and vegetables, topped with a large amount of rice.
Traditionally, most Tajik marriages were arranged by the parents, but today the great majority of Tajiks are free to choose their own partners. After marriage, the bride moves in with her husband's family. In Tajik society, the oldest male in an extended family unit has authority over his entire household.
What are their beliefs? Before their conquest by the Arabs in the eighth century, Tajiks followed a variety of religions, including Buddhism, Zoroastrianism (the religious system founded in Persia by Zoroaster and teaching the worship of Ormazd in the context of a universal struggle between the forces of light and of darkness), and various sects of Christianity. The Arab invaders brought Islam, a new religion to which all the Tajiks eventually converted. Islam became a vital part of Tajik ethnic identity and played a major role in keeping the Tajik from giving in to Russian cultural pressure.
Islam is a religion of works based on five basic requirements: affirming that Allah is the only god and that Mohammed was his prophet; praying five times a day while facing Mecca; giving alms to the poor; fasting during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year; and making at least one pilgrimage to Mecca, if possible.
What are their needs? The Tajiks of Russia have had little contact with the true Gospel. Although they are surrounded by professing Christians, the Russians, they have no real knowledge of Christ's work on the cross. Islam plays a vital part in their ethnic identity, and many fear to leave Islam because they equate it with giving up their identity. Normally open and receptive to visitors and new ideas, they resist any attempts to share the Gospel with them. Intercession is needed to break the power Islam has over their lives. Laborers who are willing to share the Good News with them are also essential.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord of the harvest to raise up loving Russian Christians to share the Gospel with Tajiks.
* Pray for the effectiveness of the Jesus film among Tajiks.
* Ask God to anoint the Gospel as it goes forth via radio in their area.
* Pray for the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of Tajiks so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Lord to save key leaders among Tajiks who will boldly declare the Gospel.