When a Fatwa Comes True
Rafiq Tagi was an Azerbaijani journalist and outspoken advocate of secularism over political Islam. His efforts were acknowledged with a fatwa in 2006 calling for his death by an Iranian cleric, the late Ayatollah Fazil Lankarani. Tagi received a three-year prison sentence in Azerbaijan for “inciting religious hatred.” After serving only eight months, Tagi received a presidential pardon from Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
On November 23, 2011, Tagi was stabbed returning home, dying of complications a few days later while recovering in a Baku hospital. A politically sensitive, high profile case in Azerbaijan, I first met the Tagi family during the three-day ceremony, the most important part of an Azerbaijani funeral that occurs three days following a death.
Tagi left behind a widow, Maila, 47, a son, Asiman, 20, and a daughter Gamar, 15. The family’s life is punctuated with loss; with Tagi’s death, widow Maila is left in a difficult spot in a socially conservative, traditional society. Many of the responsibilities of the household fell on Asiman. With Asiman’s departure to the army on July 5, 2012, the family is once again bereft of a man of the house. Their household has now dwindled to half its original size in less than a year as Maila and Gamar struggle forward together.
With the investigation technically wide open and without a single arrest made, the Tagi family’s life remains on edge; isolated by politics, secularism, and religion, Maila, his widow, must face an uncertain future with the family that remains, guiding two children as they emerge from adolescence into adulthood and with one absent and in the hands of the state, vis-à-vis the military. Ahead of the one-year anniversary of Tagi's death, Azerbaijan’s state- dominated media has gone on the offensive, attacking Tagi and asserting he brought about his own end with his writings.