Islam in Uzbekistan

Islam in Uzbekistan

Islam is by far the dominant religion in Uzbekistan. In the early 1990s, many of the Russians remaining in the republic (about 8% of the population) were Orthodox Christians. An estimated 93,000 Jews also were present. Despite its predominance, the practice of Islam is far from monolithic. Many versions of the faith have been practiced in Uzbekistan. The conflict of Islamic tradition with various agendas of reform or secularization throughout the 20th century has left the outside world with a confused notion of Islamic practices in Central Asia. In Uzbekistan the end of Soviet power did not bring an upsurge of Islamic fundamentalism, as many had predicted, but rather a gradual reacquaintance with the precepts of the faith. However after 2000, there seems to be a rise of support in favour of the Islamists.

Islam in the Soviet Era

Soviet authorities did not prohibit the practice of Islam as much as they sought to co-opt and utilize religion to placate a population that often was unaware of the tenets of its faith. After its introduction in the 7th century, Islam in many ways formed the basis of life in Uzbekistan. The Soviet government encouraged continuation of the role played by Islam in secular society. During the Soviet era, Uzbekistan had sixty-five registered mosques and as many as 3,000 active mullahs and other Muslim clerics. For almost forty years, the Muslim Board of Central Asia, the official, Soviet-approved governing agency of the Muslim faith in the region, was based in Tashkent. The grand mufti who headed the board met with hundreds of foreign delegations each year in his official capacity, and the board published a journal on Islamic issues, "Muslims of the Soviet East".

However, the Muslims working or participating in any of these organizations were carefully screened for political reliability. Furthermore, as the Uzbekistani government ostensibly was promoting Islam with the one hand, it was working hard to eradicate it with the other. The government sponsored official anti-religious campaigns and severe crackdowns on any hint of an Islamic movement or network outside of the control of the state.

Moscow's efforts to eradicate and co-opt Islam not only sharpened differences between Muslims and others. They also greatly distorted the understanding of Islam among Uzbekistan's population and created competing Islamic ideologies among the Central Asians themselves.

Political Islam

In light of the role that Islam has played throughout Uzbekistan's history, many observers expected that political Islam would gain a strong hold after independence brought the end of the Soviet Union's official atheism. The expectation was that an Islamic country long denied freedom of religious practice would undergo a very rapid increase in the expression of its dominant faith. President Islom Karimov has justified authoritarian controls over the populations of his and other Central Asian countries by the threat of upheavals and instability caused by growing Islamic political movements, and other Central Asian leaders also have cited this danger.

In the early 1990s, however, Uzbekistan did not witness a surge of political Islam as much as a search to recapture a history and culture with which few Uzbeks were familiar. To be sure, Uzbekistan is witnessing a vast increase in religious teaching and interest in Islam. Since 1991, hundreds of mosques and religious schools have been built or restored and reopened. And some of the Islamic groups and parties that have emerged might give leaders pause.

By far the largest Islamic opposition, and possibly the main opposition party in Uzbekistan emerging after 2000 is Hizb ut-Tahrir [] . This party wishes to unite the Central Asian states, and later the greater Muslim world into an Islamic federal union, or Caliphate. President Karimov has severely repressed the opposition to his rule from Islamists, claiming they are all terrorists, even the moderate movements. Fact|date=February 2007 Human rights groups have been unanimous in their condemnation of the government's repression of Islamic movements. Fact|date=February 2007

Mainstream Islam


For the most part, however, in the first years of independence Uzbekistan is seeing a resurgence of a more secular Islam, and even that movement is in its very early stages. According to a public opinion survey conducted in 1994, interest in Islam is growing rapidly, but personal understanding of Islam by Uzbeks remains limited or distorted. For example, about half of ethnic Uzbek respondents professed belief in Islam when asked to identify their religious faith. Among that number, however, knowledge or practice of the main precepts of Islam was weak. Despite a reported spread of Islam among Uzbekistan's younger population, the survey suggested that Islamic belief is still weakest among the younger generations. Few respondents showed interest in a form of Islam that would participate actively in political issues. Thus, the first years of post-Soviet religious freedom seem to have fostered a form of Islam related to the Uzbek population more in traditional and cultural terms than in religious ones, weakening Karimov's claims that a growing widespread fundamentalism poses a threat to Uzbekistan's survival.


Experts assume that Islam itself was probably not the root cause of growing unrest as much as a vehicle for expressing other grievances that are more immediate causes of dissension and despair. The people view political Islam as a solution to these problems. The Uzbek rulers strongly deny that. They blame the May 2005 unrest in Uzbekistan on an aim to overthrow the government of Uzbekistan in order to make it a Central Asian theocratic republic. Two Islamist groups in the nation that have advocated a revolutionary overthrow of the rulers are Akromiya and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Hizb ut-Tahrir have denied involvement in the unrest, but expressed sympathy and solidarity with the victims of the unrest, firmly laying blame on the repressive practices and corruption of the government.

ee also

* Islam by country
* Demographics of Uzbekistan
* Hizb ut-Tahrir

External links

* [ 'Muslim Uzbekistan' opposition website]
* [ Hizb ut-Tahrir]
* [ From Baghdad to Bishkek, the Caliphate's time has come, By Simon Jones in Tashkent]



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