Saturday, November 14, 2020

Kyrgyzstan has More Mosques Per Capita than Any Other Central Asian Country, Usenov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 12 – In 1991, there were only 39 mosques in Kyrgyzstan. Now, there are 2669, an explosive growth that reflects both the underlying religiosity of the population and Bishkek’s tolerance for the activities of religious activists from abroad, according to Arsen Usenov.

            As a result, the Bishkek political scientist says, Kyrgyzstan now has more mosques per capita than any other Central Asian country and has a population which reacts to events that roil Muslims such as the Charlie Hebdo scandal in France just as harshly as almost any Islamic country in the world (

            This religiosity has generally restrained the rise of secular nationalism in Kyrgyzstan, Usenov says; and the country to this day remains far behind other Central Asian countries in that regard. It hasn’t sought to oust Russian as a language or take other steps that could spark additional conflicts with minorities or neighbors.

            But “unfortunately,” he continues, “the growth of religiosity in the country has occurred in a chaotic manner.” Many of those attracted to Islamic missionaries know little about their faith and so accept as true almost anything someone coming from abroad says. Any extremism, Usenov argues, is a product of this and to a lesser extent of economic problems.

            “The processes of religious rebirth and re-Islamization in Kyrgyzstan have become defining factors of the political consciousness of the population, the majority of whom are Muslims.” And believers often taken their lead from mullahs who bless this or that politician or party who has built and supports their mosque.

            This has meant that many politicians in Kyrgyzstan are very much interested in investing in the construction of mosques because they can be sure that the mullahs who operate them will speak out on their behalf. Indeed, this synergy is one of the reasons that there are now so many mosques in Kyrgzyzstan. 

            Another misfortune arising from the increasing religiosity of the population, however, is that ever more Kyrgyz accept some extremely backward ideas about healthcare and refuse to have their children immunized or get the medical care they need. That must be overcome, but a push for secular nationalism would be dangerously counterproductive.

            Nationalism among the titular nationality is something Kyrgyzstan must avoid at all costs, Usenov says. If it takes off, it will almost certainly prove to be beyond the ability of the state to control and lead to conflicts at home and wars with the country’s neighbors. Despite all the problems it creates, a common Islamic faith limits that risk.

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