A representative for the Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of Kyrgyzstan has said that four madrasas have been shut down over the past week for failing to obtain proper authorization.
Kushtarbek Mamatov told EurasiaNet.org that the schools were giving lessons without the correct papers and did not appear to know that they needed to register and obtain approval from a government commission.
“They have stopped their activities and sent children home. Now they are collecting all the required documents,” he told EurasiaNet.org.
Mamatov noted, however, that while the madrasas were operating without authorization, there is no evidence they were teaching anything improper.
“They only taught good and useful things there. Now it is simply a matter of legalizing it all. We explained everything to them,” Mamatov said.
The closure of several madrasas took place several days after a nongovernmental organization, the Bulan Institute for Peace Innovations published, a report detailing the need for a radical overhaul to religious education in Kyrgyzstan.
The report found that Kyrgyz madrasas often operate without proper permission and provide poor conditions for their students.
Religious affairs expert Orozbek Moldaliev said that the muftiate has repeatedly been petitioned to take action against delinquent madrasas, but has failed to do so.
“These are basically places that were opened by people who got funding and who are pretending to teach children. But if you barely have an education yourself, how are you going to start teaching others?” Moldaliev said.
Murat Imankulov, a member of a working group on the reform of religious education, said that many children finishing their studies in madrasas often find they are unable to enter the labor market.
Police in Tajikistan have taken to drawing up lists of women known to wear the hijab in a fresh measure to combat signs of what they perceive as excess Islamic piety.
Asia-Plus news last week cited the head of police in the northern city of Khujand, Emin Jalilov, as saying that raids have been mounted in markets with the aim of maintaining security and upholding national customs. That translates in practical terms to clamping down on any clothing deemed suggestive of radical Islamic beliefs.
“During raids we found that at 38 retail points in the city there were saleswomen wearing (veils),” Jalilov said.
Jalilov noted with regret that many bazaar directors are failing to clamp down on the phenomenon.
“At the moment, the city police has a list of 643 women that wear the hijab. Of those, 513 are residents of the city. These neighborhoods are under the close supervision of the police,” he said.
Authorities are always eager to stress that the threat is not hypothetical but real.
As Jalilov noted, 30 residents of Khujand have been detained on suspicion of associating with radical and terrorist Islamic groups so far this year. At least 245 members of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir group and 226 followers of the Salafi movement have been recorded in Khujand, he said. Most of those have received criminal sentences of some kind.
These figures are of questionable value, however, given how arbitrarily police and courts assign membership status in underground groups to anybody they deem even mildly suspicious. True membership or affiliation figures may be much smaller, or for that matter, much greater.
Residents of Kyrgyzstan’s capital woke up on July 13 to find stark and, to some, provocative billboards on some of the city’s main thoroughfares.
The huge poster shows three groups of women in a variety of female head covers — some of them in the niqab veil that covers almost the entire face — and the words “Oh poor nation, where are we headed?”
The meaning of the image is slightly cryptic. But the arrangement of the pictures — traditional Kyrgyz dress on the left, niqabs on the right and something looking like a halfway version of those two forms of dress in the middle — would suggest that whoever is behind the stunt is concerned at the stealthy spread of ultra-orthodox Muslim customs in the country.
The first public reaction to the billboard came from prominent religious affairs commentators Kadyr Malikov, who has made a name for himself forecasting the rise of radical Islam in Kyrgyzstan.
Malikov described the poster as a “provocation.”
“Article 299 of the criminal code [on incitment to religious hatred and offending religious feelings) states that actions like this can lead to spread of hatred and cause divisions within the state. These are highly dangerous shenanigans,” Malikov wrote in a public appeal calling for the authorities to get involved.
While Malikov is concerned about the potential for a surge in radical Islam, he has also registered anxiety about a concomitant increase in Islamophobic sentiment, which he sees in the posters.
The pictures were, in any case, misleading, Malikov wrote.
A self-styled expert on religious matters in Kyrgyzstan with a penchant for talking up the threat of Islamic radicalism has been attacked by unknown assailants, local outlets have reported.
Kadyr Malikov, who advises government policymakers on all things Islam, was reportedly knifed in the 12th micro-district of the capital, Bishkek, on the evening of November 26.
According to Vesti.kg, citing confirmation from police sources, eyewitnesses saw Malikov running down the street, bloody-faced and screaming “ISIS wants to kill me” following a heated exchange with the driver of a BMW that was blocking his car.
Citing an interview with a doctor, Russian agency Sputnik reported Malikov was being operated on and had suffered deep knife wounds to his face and neck.
Malikov lives in confirmed fear of an attack from the Islamic State group.
The director of the Religion, Law and Politics analytical center, said in January that the Islamic State group was “ready to pour $70 million into Kyrgyzstan to destabilize the situation in the south.”
That figure, which Malikov never substantiated, was repeated this week by a former deputy head of the national security service at a roundtable titled "Extremism and Terrorism in Kyrgyzstan. Tablighi Jamaat: A Threat or Stability for the Future of the Country?"
An Alawite woman prays in a shrine in Samandag, Turkey on July 13. Alawites, who in Turkey are sometimes called Arab Alevis, compose a small minority in the country. Alawites in Samandag said that the support of Turkey's ruling Sunni Justice and Development Party (AKP) for Syrian rebels seeking to topple the Alawite-dominated Assad regime in Syria has marginalized Alawites in the country.
Justin Vela is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul.
Worshippers wait outside the Russian Orthodox Church in Bishkek for the acclaimed Tikhvin Icon of Our Lady to arrive from Russia. Believed to work miracles, the icon is visiting Kyrgyzstan for the first time, traveling across the country from July 9 to 13.
David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.
When people talk about cozy relationships among the powerful in Central Asia, they often go on to enumerate the earthly pleasures that come with them -- luxury homes, exotic vacations, Swiss bank accounts.
But a recent story posted on the Russian-language Lenta.ru news site suggests a whole new realm of riches on offer for some of Kazakhstan’s leaders.
As Lenta reports, Sergey Kulagin, until recently the governor of the country’s northern Kostanay Province, now appears in a fresco on the walls of the St. John the Theologian Cathedral, which opened its doors in the city of Rudniy earlier this month. Kulagin, who served as governor for seven years until being appointed a senator last week, is depicted in Roman robes, but sans his usual spectacles, as one of the greeters of Christ in Jerusalem.
A secretary of the Kostanaysko-Rudnenskaya Diocese, part of the powerful Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church, has confirmed Kulagin’s appearance in the new fresco. One can only guess what good deeds, performed toward the Church or the cathedral’s sponsor, Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation PLC (ENRC) Komek Fund, have earned the now-senator the gift of pictorial life with its hint at eternal grace.
Sila Sahin, a German-born Turkish actress, has made history by being the first Turkish woman to pose for the cover of Playboy. But her move has not been welcomed, both by her family and some Muslim hardliners.
The Berlin-based Sahin has said she posed for the German-edition of the magazine, "to show young Turkish women it's okay for you to live however you choose. Many of my countrymen think it's great that I can be so free. With the shoot I hoped to say to them that we do not necessarily have to live under these rules given to us."
But the photo spread has led her mother to cut off contact with her and concerns about what kind of pressure Sahin may face from cultural and religious conservatives within the large Turkish community in Germany. More details here. And writer Asra Q. Nomani takes a closer look at the significance of Sahin's Playboy photo and interview here.
By some estimates, 20 Protestant churches have been robbed, often violently, in northern Kyrgyzstan recently. A typical raid happened on November 4, the AKIpress crime blotter reported:
About 10 unknown armed people wearing masks attacked the office of the spiritual center of the Seventh Day Adventist Church located on Magadanskaya Street.
The unknown people tied up the hands and legs of a guard – 61-year-old Chupakova – with a scarf and took possession of a laptop and a metal safe containing 158,000 soms [about 3,400 dollars].
A watchman was murdered during a church robbery in August. Yet Evening Bishkek reported on October 29 that the robberies are eliciting little police interest (translation via BBC Monitoring):
A wave of robberies has swept Protestant churches in Bishkek and Chui Region. It seems that there is only one single group involved because all the robberies are carried out according to the same scenario. Many pastors and parishioners are frightened: what if their house of worship will be next? Will an end be put to all this?
As in past years, the Turkmen government has limited the number of Muslims who have been allowed to fly to Saudi Arabia to participate in the haj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, the semi-official news service turkmenistan.ru reports.
As the airplane only has 188 seats, the number of those who are allowed to make the haj has been restricted to that number. The flight has been chartered at government expense.
Last year, citing concerns about the H1N1 virus, the government did not charter even one flight, and instructed religious believers to travel around various sacred sites within Turkmenistan.
The Turkmen government has kept state-approved religious activity under tight control, and heavily punishes any believers who attempt to operate outside state-sanctioned bodies.
Despite the restrictions on flights, some unknown number of Turkmen citizens are said to manage to make their way to Saudi Arabia quietly on their own. Given the intensive oversight of all persons entering and exiting from Turkmenistan, there are likely few that risk the journey.
In an essay on the web site of the religious news service Forum 18, Felix Corley asks why all Muslims in Turkmenistan who wish to are not allowed to make the haj. He says that in the past, the number of 188 people has included members of the Ministry of State Security, or secret police, who monitor the activities of the faithful. Forums 18 has learned that at least one person who had applied for a Saudi Arabian haj visa from Turkmenistan this year was denied because he wasn't on the government list.
Saudi Arabia is said to set a quota of about 5,000 believers for Turkmenistan, says Corley, but Saudi authorities have not confirmed this. The Saudi consulate in Ashgabat issues visas only to those approved by the Turkmen government, says Forum 18.