Staunton, July 16 – Kyrgyzstan has seen an explosive growth in the number of Muslim organizations since 1991, but it has succeeded in keeping the radicalization of most Muslims there far better than other Central Asian countries have done, primarily because Bishkek had adopted a “softer” approach to dealing with the faith, Arsen Usenov says.
The Kyrgyz political analyst notes that the number of mosques in Kyrgyzstan has increased from 39 in 1991 to 2930 in 2021. (In addition, there are now 418 parishes of other religious groups.) But almost all are traditional and loyal; and the regime has banned few Islamist trends (cabar.asia/ru/religioznaya-politika-v-kyrgyzstane-analiz-dostizhenij-i-problem).
“From the very start of its independent existence, Usenov says, “Kyrgyzstan has adhered toward a liberal approach toward the religious sector. Thus, unlike other post-Soviet republics, Kyrgyzstan had more space and freedom for the establishment and development of Islamic religious organizations brought in from the outside.”
Initially, the Kyrgyz state took a hands off approach, but growing religiosity and the insistence of many Muslims there that Islam should play a role in state policy, prompted the government to begin as of 2014 to devote more attention to the relationship between the government and Islam.
In a policy document adopted then and renewed in 2021, Bishkek committed itself to seeking greater control over the appointment of imams, regulating missionary activity by Muslim groups, and raising public awareness about state policy on religious questions and thus limiting the spread of extremist ideas.
Bishkek also called for a radical reform of religious education, something that has not yet happened, although the state has secured the introduction of secular subjects in the medrassahs and Islamic higher schools in the republic. It has also segregated those in prison for religious extremism from other prisoners lest the former spread their views.
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