The top Islamic official in Tajikistan has declared boxing and fighting sports "without rules" to be "haram" -- forbidden under Islamic law.
Saidmukarram Abdulkodirzoda, the head of Tajikistan's Ulema Council, said during Friday Prayers in Dushanbe's central mosque on June 1 that such fighting sports were forbidden because they can "damage" a person's health.
"Especially boxing and fighting [sports] without rules are considered, from the religious point of view, haram, as they can damage health, disable someone," said Abdulkodirzoda, who is appointed to his post by the government.
He added: "All kinds of games and duels [done] for money are haram. [They are a waste of] time, without benefit to the mind and body. This is haram."
Abdulkodirzoda said he believed Tajik youth should engage in what he called "normal" sports, for example wrestling, to "develop physically and spiritually." Such sports require the "achievements of our youth, so that they proudly raise the flag of the country and enhance the image of the nation and state."
Nosir Azimov, a successful Tajik boxing trainer, said it was the first time he'd heard a religious official in Tajikistan call boxing "haram."
Azimov, who trained 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Mavzuna Chorieva, said that as far as he knows, all Muslim countries officially accepted boxing and do not consider it haram.
"I have been to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Daghestan -- and they all have boxing," he said. "I had heard about MMA and that some consider it haram. That type of fighting doesn’t have rules. But boxing is based on rules."
Azimov said he feared that the statement by Abdulkodirzoda could affect boxing in Tajikistan.
In the autumn, Tajikistan's Youth and Sports Committee placed a ban on nine sports at publicly funded sports clubs and institutions. Among these were mixed-martial arts (MMA) and boxing. MMA is often criticized for its lack of restrictions on what a fighter can do to hurt his or her opponent.