Since independence, Kyrgyzstan, a mostly Islamic country, has largely enjoyed the reputation of a religiously tolerant state. Many clerics, like Imam Adakhamjon Khakimov, maintain that there have been few fundamental changes in the government's relationship to the Muslim faithful since the revolution. Nonetheless, recent events suggest that some reevaluation of that relationship is underway.
The government began to claim that many of Kyrgyzstan's Muslim clerics tacitly support religious extremism after a group of armed religious radicals attacked border and customs posts in the southern province of Batken, on the border with Tajikistan, in May 2006. Twelve individuals were killed in the attack, including civilians, and a number of people were wounded.
Since then, growing attention has focused on Hizb-ut Tahrir, a self-declared non-violent Islamic organization that wants to establish an Islamic caliphate in Central Asia. Government officials like Jantooro Satybaldiev, President Bakiyev's plenipotentiary representative to southern Kyrgyzstan, and the governor of Osh province, have charged that local mullahs "display indifference" to the sect's "subversive activities" and propaganda. Others claim that Hizb-ut Tahrir membership is increasing throughout northern Kyrgyzstan, including Bishkek, as well as in the more conservative south.
But the fight against Islamic extremism is played out along a delicate line. As the crackdown has continued, some observers contend that the measures target ethnic Uzbeks. The August 6, 2006 killing of ethnic Uzbek cleric Muhammadrafiq Kamalov by Kyrgyz security forces targeting suspected Hizb-ut Tahrir extremists outside of the southern city of Osh has prompted calls for restraint. Similar concerns have been raised by a July 2006 clash between police and suspected members of Hizb-ut Tahir and the terrorist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which led to the arrest of 14 individuals, mostly ethnic Uzbek, after the death of a police officer and five other people.
Some analysts, however, argue that insufficient information exists to support claims by Kyrgyz media and government that Islamic extremism is rapidly spreading in Kyrgyzstan.
"Nobody has studied religious extremism in Kyrgyzstan thoroughly and deeply. The government provides statistics, but they do not know where religious radicals emerge come from and the reasons
why," noted Svetlana Gafarova of the Social Information and Prognoses Public Fund in Osh. "We do have them [radical extremists], but the authorities blame them for many events they are not involved in."
Some clerics have countered that law enforcement structures are not able to struggle effectively against religious extremism. Corrupt state officials, they have charged, promote the spread of religious extremisms by selling Kyrgyz passports to foreigners who serve as envoys of various extremist groups.
Attendance at Kyrgyz mosques has steadily increased since the collapse of the Soviet Union, with new mosques, often built with foreign financing, now a common sight in villages in both north and south. In 1991, Kyrgyzstan had 39 mosques. In 2005, according to the Kyrgyz State Religious Committee, 2,500 mosques functioned in Kyrgyzstan. In an attempt to tighten potential loopholes for outside radical groups, the government has recently begun a program to register all working mosques.