Saturday, November 11, 2017

New Report Documents Explosive Growth of Islam in Four Central Asian Countries

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 11 – The Central Asia Policy Group, with funding from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, has released a 52-page report about four of the five countries in Central Asia – Turkmenistan is not included – that details the explosive growth of Islam in the region and the efforts of the governments there to cope.

            Most of the report is devoted to tracing the history of relations between Muslims and the state in the four countries, but perhaps the most useful information the report offers concerns the current size of the Muslim presence in each of the them and the CAPG’s recommendation for the future.

            (The entire report, which was just published in Russian in Almaty, is available online at It has been usefully summarized by the Fergana News Agency at

            The key state institutions supervising Islam in these countries vary as do the non-governmental bodies that supervise mosques and other religious activities. In Kazakhstan, there is a ministry for religious affairs; in Kyrgyzstan a commission; and in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan a committee on religious affairs. Religious parties are banned in all four.

            The main religious body in Tajikistan is the Islamic Center and Council of Ulema; in all three of the others, there exist Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) modelled on the institutions, the tsars and communists used to supervise and control religious life. These bodies replaced the MSD for Central Asia and Kazakhstan that existed in Soviet times.

            The number of mosques and their rate of increase is impressive. In Kazakhstan last year, there were 2516 mosques, up from 68 in 1991; in Kyrgyzstan, there were 2669 mosques, up from 1973 in 2009; in Tajikistan in 2016, 3930; and in Uzbekistan, 2065 mosques.

            As for religious leaders, there is one imam for every 2210 people in Tajikistan, one for every 7824 in Uzbekistan; one for every 4915, and one for every 2407 in Kyrgyzstan. Thus, respectively, there are now 3914 in Tajikistan, 4100 in Uzbekistan, 3611 in Kazakhstan and 2500 in Kyrgyzstan.

            There are also an increasing number of religious educational institutions. In Kyrgyzstan. There are 112 registered Islamic schools, including one Islamic university, nine Islamic institutes, and 88 functioning medrassahs.  In Kazakhstan, there are a total of 13 such schools; in Uzbekistan, there are 11; but in Tajikistan, there is only one, a major bottleneck.

            The authors of the report, who come from these four countries, conclude by making five comments about the situation of state-Islam relations in the region:

·         First, they say, the MSDs are “a continuation of Soviet practice.”

·         Second, the evolution of state policy toward Islam reflects two vectors which may be called “the struggle for hearts and minds” to legitimate the state and the struggle for votes in elections there.

·         Third, there has been a continuing and sometimes explosive growth in the number of Muslim institutions, initially chaotic but increasingly controlled and regulated by the state.

·         Fourth, the prospects for any Islamic political party in any of these countries are non-existent at present.

·         And fifth, all of the governments in the region and all of the Muslim organizations there are groping toward new principles for creating greater trust between the two sides.

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