SUGHD PROVINCE, Tajikistan -- Poverty is causing too many Tajiks to make disastrous choices, warn clergy and officials.
Every year, more than 3,000 residents of Gulakandoz Jamoat (municipality), Jabbor Rasulov District, Sughd Province, go abroad for seasonal or permanent work, confirm officials.
Gulakandoz, the second most populous rural community in Tajikistan, has a population of 43,000. Jabbor Rasulov District has about 133,000 residents.
Not all migrants work
The vast majority of such residents find construction and other such jobs abroad.
However, some instead become Middle East insurgents, driven by the toxic mix of thoughts and urges that create extremism.
Last year, out of Jabbor Rasulov District (the district containing Gulakandoz), 29 residents joined the "Islamic State" (IS), according to an anonymous law enforcement source.
Of those 29, 14 "came from one village, Gulakandoz", the law enforcement source told Caravanserai. "It's the third town in Sughd Province to produce so many 'jihadists'."
"More than 2,500" of Gulakandoz's 43,000 adult residents are jobless, Jamilya Boinazarova, deputy chairwoman of the jamoat government, told Caravanserai.
"For many, labour migration is the only way to feed themselves and their families," she said. "Labour migrants, most of whom speak no other language besides Tajik and are poorly informed on religion as well, readily become vulnerable. When they fail to find work, [extremist] recruiters immediately take advantage of their situation."
Monitoring mosques, schools
To stop radicalisation, Gulakandoz Jamoat officials regularly visit families, schools and farms and ask potential labour migrants to report when they leave and arrive, said Boinazarova, adding that the clergy is striving to help prevent IS recruitment.
"We're trying to protect them," she said. "We ask relatives and loved ones to always stay in touch with them. We implemented a system to keep track of their whereabouts."
Fourteen mosques operate in Gulakandoz, Otaboi Madyorov, imam-hatib of Hoji Abdughaffor Mosque (one of those 14), told Caravanserai.
"Previously all the mosques were independent, and hardly anybody knew what they did," he said. "But now the small ones are subordinated to the central mosque. Having a single governing body enables us to monitor what mosques are doing and maintain contact with the faithful."
Teaching through sermons
Imams who suspected they were losing their audiences have adjusted, said Madyorov.
"We started preaching sermons differently," said Madyorov.
Instead of reciting "hadiths and endless, boring tales of saints' lives", imams now know to address mosque-goers' real-life concerns, he said.
"We use our sermons to raise worshippers' level of religious knowledge, teach youth to be vigilant ... and protect [youth] from the influence of extremist ideology," said Madyorov.
Worshippers who consider their needs unmet are going to look elsewhere for answers, opening the door to extremism, he added.