THE FERGANA VALLEY: SOURCE OR VICTIM OF ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM?

Bakhtiyar Babadzhanov


Bakhtiyar BABADZHANOV is Head of the Department of Islamic Studies at the Institute of Oriental studies, Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan.


So-called ‘Fergana fundamentalism’ (known as ‘Wahhabism’, ‘political Islam’, etc.) is mentioned, if only in a few lines, in almost all publications on the contemporary political, religious and socio-economic situation in Central Asia. The ‘Golden Valley’ has come to be regarded as a source of Islamic fundamentalism which could influence the religious situation in the entire region. Among researchers there is no consensus on the reasons behind this phenomenon, and there are different and sometimes contradictory explanations for it.

This study analyses the religious situation in Fergana today, taking account of the internal and external factors influencing the ‘fundamentalist boom’ in the valley. The focus is on those Islamic groups which rally round the idea of reviving the ‘genuine Islam’ of the times of the Prophet and his first four ‘caliphs’.1

The Historical Background

Almost all the radical Islamic groups in Uzbekistan, especially those that found fertile soil in Fergana, pin their hopes on a historical and political renaissance of the Caliphate of the times of the first ‘four perfect caliphs’. They were and remain in the eyes of the majority of Muslims the symbols of just rule, brotherly relations and equal distribution of economic wealth. In the historical area of Ma wara’ an-nahr (Transoxiana, ‘that which lies beyond the river’), the processes of Islamization and re-Islamization (for example, during the more than 100-year-long period after the Mongolian conquest) were long and complex. But the most important thing is that the idealized images of the first four caliphs began gradually to supplant the literary and legendary examples of ancient Iranian kings.

By the mid-18th century, a proportion of the ‘ulama of local states (including the khanate of Kokand) and even some of the rulers, initiated religious reform under the banner of a return to the ‘pure’ Islam of the times of the Prophet and his four successors. The narrative (historical), hagiographic (Sufi), literary and epical traditions, folklore, and even architectural symbols also invariably invoke the rather idealized and mythologized images of the four caliphs.

It must be said that the idea of reviving the Caliphate never went beyond declarations. The insurmountable hurdle in the path to ‘revival’ was presented by the local forms of everyday Islam which included, in addition to the rules of the Shari’ah, local (apparently, pre-Islamic) customs and traditions – ’adat, and also other deeply rooted manifestations such as the cult of the saints, pilgrimage rituals (ziyarat), traditional fetishism, and so on.

During the period of Russian colonialism the local radical Muslim movements, known under the general name of qadimiyyah (Qadimists), also introduced the idea of reviving the Caliphate of the times of the first successors of the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims performing the hajj brought back Wahhabite ideas and literature, especially from India where successors of local Wahhabite leader Shah Waliullah were very active. According to the statistics of the Russian colonial authorities’, 70–75 per cent of hajjis came from Fergana where, following the dismantling of the Kokand khanate (Feb. 1876) the question of restoring the Muslim state in the Caliphate form became especially popular among local ‘ulama and Sufi leaders. Once again their writings raised the problems of ‘combating inadmissible innovations’ (bid’ah) such as the cult of the saints, pilgrimages to their graves, and so on. These and other attempts by Qadimists to combat local forms of Islam by no means enhanced their prestige among the local population, whereas their calls for combating colonialism were readily accepted.

Practically all religious figures (regardless of their faith and theological law school) were persecuted and eliminated during the Soviet period. The abrupt and forced secularization of all aspects of public, political and private life proved especially harsh and involved many victims in Fergana. Later, in conditions of strong sustained atheist pressure, the local forms of Islam continued to function in the shape of religious rites and observances (ziyarat, jinazah, marasim, etc.). They became strongly rooted in the minds of the masses over the centuries and formed the foundation of their system of values and way of life, and of the natural manifestation of people’s religious sentiments. At any rate, the so-called ‘everyday’ (or ‘popular’) Islam once again demonstrated its ability to adapt to new and extremely unfavourable historical conditions. This adaptation was characterized by the revival in the 1960s and 1970s of pilgrimages to ziyarats (shrines), the graves of local ‘saints’ (awliy’) on traditional Islamic fetes (a’id al-qurban, mawlud, etc.) and pre-Islamic fetes (sayil, nauruz). Visits to ziyarats were traditionally accompanied by lighting candles on the graves and appeals to the spirits of the ‘saints’ for intercession, for example, to bring good luck in business. At roughly the same time ‘unofficial’ religious groups (which were very small then) began to emerge in Fergana. On the one hand their members were in opposition to the conformist activities of the SAMCA,2 and on the other hand they were dissatisfied with the ‘heretical’ nature of the reawakened religious conscience of the people. In addition to Muhammad Hindustani’s followers, mentioned in Ashirbek Muminov’s paper, I should mention the descendants of the traditionalist ‘ulama, who survived the ‘purges’ and managed to secretly teach their children and grandchildren and those they especially trusted. As a matter of fact, they all attended the republic’s only officially functioning madrasahs, called Mir-i ’Arab, and even worked for some time as imams and teachers (Ma’rufdzhon qari, Habibulla Solikh qari, among others). Of course they voiced dissatisfaction (secretly and openly) with the ‘flaccid’ conformist position of the SAMCA; as a result, most of them were fired from SAMCA’s institutions.3 Having been left high and dry, this group of clergy swelled the ranks of the so-called ‘unofficial imams and mudarrises’. They were especially active in Fergana Valley cities (Namangan, Margilan, and Andizhan).

The Revival of Islam

A fresh awakening of Islam came in the early 1980s as the communist ideology suffered an obvious crisis in Uzbekistan, especially in Fergana. The safest and most natural form, under the Soviet regime, was the revival of Islamic rites on an everyday basis. According to the statistics of the 1982 Uzbekistan Communist Party Central Committee, 65–66 per cent of newly married couples in the Fergana Valley went through the civilian matrimony ceremony and the nikah religious consecration;4 and visiting the graves of saints increased sharply. Naturally the local authorities and communists saw this as a threat to the state ‘mono-ideology’. In addition to a stepped-up counter-propaganda campaign5 and forcible measures (police cordons at holy places) there were attempts to build new monuments on the old cult sites. For example, a memorial was build on the site of Shakhimardan, the oldest holy place in the south of Fergana, for the first Soviet Uzbek author and playwright Khamza Khakim-zade Niyazi, who was murdered in 1929. Some other holy places were simply destroyed.6 The period 1983–85 saw the destruction of the inalienable attributes of many mazarstugas (sacred banners), chirag-danys for candle burning, etc. – under the supervision of Third (ideological) Secretaries of local party committees.7 Despite the high popularity of these sacred objects, the above measures did not spark any ‘extremist reaction’ from the locals, who sincerely believed that the spirits, the ‘outraged saints’, would avenge them.8 The authorities, however, were very well aware of the ineffectiveness of such measures against the traditional manifestations of the enduring forms of Islam.

The SAMCA proved impotent and sluggish. The so-called unofficial imams and Hanafite madhhab mudarrises were able to make pilgrimages to the graves, but they did not approve of some of the pre-Islam (‘pagan’) ziyarat rituals.9 Owing to their religious erudition, this group of theologians were more critical of the ‘sovietization’ of many traditional rituals and ceremonies (such as the above-mentioned Komsomol and non-Komsomol weddings with plenty of food and alcoholic drinks).10 The ‘unofficial Hanafites’, however, could not accept statements from the radical wing of the fundamentalists (Ahl al-hadith, and Ahl al-Qur’an) to the effect that marasim or ziyarat was completely illegitimate. The positions of the latter suited the atheists, however, who saw the revival of popular Islamic rituals as the main danger to the official ideology.

The Radicalization of Fergana

The hour came for local unofficial, radical religious personages who sharply opposed the above rituals. Considering that most people were religious, the corresponding party and government bodies made good use of the Fergana ‘pro-fundamentalists’ in campaigning against the cult of the saints and the ziyarat. This, for example, was the spirit of the decision by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan ‘On Measures to Isolate Islamic Personages’ of February 1983. From then on, every religious leader opposing the cult of the saints and ziyarat, or any other religious ceremony (marasim), could have access to television and the press. Fergana’s ‘Proto-Wahhabites’ (’Abduwali qari, Rakhmatulla qari, Khakim qari, among others) eagerly entered an alliance with the state in a bid to increase the number of their supporters. They partially succeeded and the KGB and other ‘special organs’ connived at their teaching activities because they had instructions to find a natural ally to combat the most widespread Hanafite madhhab. In the meantime, the nascent fundamentalist movements showed an interest in foreign literature. It is not known how they laid their hands on the works of the Arab theorists and ideologists then famous in the Islamic world: the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ (al-ikhwan al-muslimun), Muhammad Qutb and Sayyid Qutb, or the works of Abu-l-’Al’a Mawdudi among others. As some researchers noted, however, these and other books of foreign Islamic extremists were in the SAMCA library and accessible to many local ‘ulama.

A few years later, the ‘militant atheists’ suddenly realized that their previous ‘allies’ were now even more irreconcilable and active disseminators of ‘pure Islam’, with so far vaguely formulated but clearly political slogans. Despite the pressures (arrests, threats, and so on) exerted against the leaders, the ‘new movement’ had taken a firm root in the Fergana Valley, especially among members of former clerical families. The state could have punished the leaders of the Fergana Islamists, but perestroika gave rise to other no less (if not more) active unofficial movements (mostly nationalistic). The problem of unofficial religious figures gradually receded into the background, which enabled the unofficial movements to develop and strengthen structurally. This was taking place against the backdrop of vigorous and sweeping re-Islamization, where politicians with a sense of the force and significance of this process began to flirt with religious authorities and even ‘Islamize’ their own propaganda vocabulary. Old mosques were rebuilt and new ones were constructed. This process was especially dynamic in Fergana. The bulk of the funds were coming from companies (construction and other companies) whose managers resorted to all manner of financial tricks to legitimize the building material and cash they contributed to the construction of mosques at the request (or sometimes demand) of the clergy. Most of the managers bowed to the general influence of the re-Islamization process.

Another interesting group of donors are the Islamic missionaries who began to actively penetrate Uzbekistan as soon as entry into the USSR was made easier and, especially, during the first years after its collapse. They were mainly emissaries of totally different (including radical) Islamic movements, parties and religious organizations from Arab countries, Pakistan and, less frequently, from Iran. As well as cash for the construction of mosques11 they were bringing in ideas and literature (including propaganda books).

From 1990 this literature (periodicals and works by modern-day politically fundamentalist Islamic theorists) arrived in translation to the Uzbek, Tajik and even the Russian language. Those most prepared for these ideas were found among the local traditionalists in Fergana. They established close and constant contacts, and the latter copied the structure, the theoretical provisions, forms and, evidently, clandestine methods of their foreign ‘brethren in spirit’.

The activities of foreign parties and organizations were most successful in Fergana for more reasons than the above. First of all it should be noted that nearly half Uzbekistan’s population live in Fergana (more than 10 million people). The great density of the population (nearly 550 people per square kilometer)12 sharply increases social and religious communication – a main condition for the durability of the traditional way of life and the religious and communal mentality. The numerous attempts in Soviet times to secularize the ‘special mode of thinking’ of the Fergana people and to reorient the prevalent system of values by using well-known propaganda methods and massive Russification led to covert opposition. It was expressed, for example, in the desire of the older generation to instill in their children and descendants the ethic norms (adab) and special ‘Fergana’ rules of conduct derived traditionally from the religious Islamic rules, or Shari’ah.

Whereas before the late 1980s someone who followed the minimum of religious precepts was regarded by the majority of the people of Fergana as some kind of ideal, by the early 1990s this ideal was for many religious figures just a criterium by which to class people as ‘them’ or ‘us’. Even if someone was considered not to be one of ‘us’, no hostility or enmity was implied.

The Clergy

The awakening of national conscience and national self-identification in Fergana should be viewed through the prism of the renaissance of Islam, which traditionally pervades all the spheres of spiritual and daily life of the people of the valley. In the meantime, as mentioned above, the temporary alliance of the so-called Wahhabites and the atheists did irreparable damage to the local forms of Islam, which have always been a natural counterbalance to fundamentalism. On the other hand, SAMCA servants, as transmitters and interpreters of Hanafite madhhab were, first, few in number and unprepared for such a high rate of re-Islamization. Second, the SAMCA leadership discredited itself in the eyes of Muslims by their conformist stance vis-à-vis the ‘atheist authorities’. In the meantime, the unofficial Hanafites failed to take up a definite position in the process of re-Islamization. Some of them (Obid qari, Ma’rufdzhon qari, et al.) took the position of extremist fundamentalists and Islamists although they followed traditional precepts in the main Hanafite rituals. Others were quite satisfied with the more liberal attitudes of the authorities towards religion. All these factors caused the active Islamists to take the lead in re-Islamization with most of them, it later transpired, coming from the clerical families of Fergana. Their first success was the replacement of the SAMCA leadership in 1989. Muhammad Sadik, from Andizhan, became the new mufti.13 He immediately adopted a policy of reviving Islam. Muhammad Sadik thought that to do this it was necessary to rebuild at least as many mosques and madrasahs as there had been before the revolution. Anticipating control and pressure from the authorities, the new mufti tried to secure a second source of legitimacy, announced his candidacy for a seat in the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and was elected.

By skilful and energetic use of both sources of legitimacy the new mufti managed to bring the number of mosques to 1500 between 1989 and 1991 (800 in Fergana alone).14 After the advent of sovereignty in 1991, Muhammad Sadik spoke more than once for a gradual restoration of moral and then legal Islamic norms. At the same time, he was well aware of the ambitions of the new radical Islamic groups from his own Fergana and feared a split among the republic’s Muslims. He called for adherence to the Hanafite madhha, which is regarded as traditional by the majority of the local population. However, Fergana’s fundamentalists from among the nascent radical religious movements, who were at first actively behind Muhammad Sadik, saw in those calls encroachments on their ‘religious rights’ and began to show their disaffection with what they increasingly thought was a ‘liberal’ position of the head of the Spiritual Board. As early as 1991–92 there were cases of forcible takeover of mosques by fundamentalists of different varieties in Andizhan, Namangan and other towns in Fergana. Parallel to this, other Islamic movements and parties like the Hizb at-tahrir al-islami became more active and their members disapproved of the Spiritual Boards’s positions. Although Muhammad Sadik continued to enjoy high prestige among the majority of Muslims and did not betray his adherence to Islam’s legal status, the state was naturally unhappy about that. As a result, he was replaced in 1993 by Muhtarkhan Abdullayev, who steered the republic’s Spiritual Board back to the conformist part and resumed cooperation with the government which feared and still fears increased politicization of Islam.

Radical Islamist Organisations

With no experience of work with fundamentalists, the republic’s power structures and other structures, which were direct successors to the Soviet methods of ‘work’ with religious figures, repeated the attempt at repressive measures against imams. These measures failed to diminish the population’s religiousness and even rather liberally- and non-politically-minded imams and ‘ulama grew appreciably radical over the improper treatment by local authorities.15

These and similar measures by government organs against the politicization of Islam motivated the radical wing of Fergana’s fundamentalists to go into hiding, form secret unauthorized communities, and strengthen underground and semi-legal work against official ideology. It is very noteworthy that a vast majority of latter-day Islamic groups and communities were founded in Fergana’s urban centres, for example, the Adolat and Islam lashkarlari, notable for their intolerance of the existing regulations and attempts to establish a ‘just Islamic regime’. More seriously and solidly organized was the Hizb at-tahrir al-islami party, which laid the main stress on campaign activities. As pointed out above, all sorts of printed matter in Uzbek from these parties has been coming into Uzbekistan from other countries:16 the periodic party journal al-Wa’y, books like Democracy – kufr nizami (Democracy is a Regime of the Absence of Faith) by ’Abd al-Qaddum Zallum, Islam nizami (Islamic Order), Kalifalikning tushunchalari (The Idea of the Caliphate), Siyasiy fikralar (Reflections on Politics), and so on. Literature clearly intended for the local conditions also appeared, recommending methods of recruitment, secret operations, and so on: Hizbut-tahrir tushunchalari ([Explanations] of Hizb at-tahrir terms); Islamiy da'watni yoyish – wazifalar wa sifatlar (Methods of Dissemination of Islam: Tasks and Qualities), and so on. Simplified translations of Arabic texts were adapted for the local reader, and they contained the familiar ideas on the need to revive the Caliphate, calls for civilian disobedience, and so on. The titles alone of the literature being disseminated indicate the party’s clearly political campaigning.

The experience of the above-mentioned groups and Hizb at-tahrir was taken into account by the organizers of other, more recent communities making them more clandestine with very ‘atomized’ structures in order to save the organisation in case of arrests. It makes sense to dwell on one such group, called Akramiyyah and founded in Andizhan in about 1996 by Akram Yuldashev. Its members call themselves Iymonchilar, while it is known among other believers as Akramiyyah of Khalifatchilar. Yuldashev, when still a member of the Hizb at-tahrir, found the methods of work of the organization which had developed under the conditions of the Arab countries, unsuited for the conditions of Fergana. He wrote about this in his book Iymonga yul (The Path to True Faith) where he set forth his ‘Path’ in 12 lessons. Like all members of the Hizb at-tahrir, he thought that it was only possible to achieve true faith and revive the Caliphate when these ideas ‘became stamped into the conscience of everyone who call themselves Muslims’. Since this ‘enlightenment’ is impossible to achieve on the scale of the entire country, the best solution is to try and achieve this goal on the scale of one community, one village or town. Akram Yuldashev thinks that, for a variety of reasons, Muslims have been in the state of jahiliyyah (ignorance) ever since the last of the Four Perfect Caliphs – ’Ali ibn Abu Talib (d. 661). As long as the jahiliyyah period continues, he believes, Muslims will continue fighting each other and be divided into different madhhabs and firqahs, making it impossible to establish a just rule and a just distribution of the social wealth as was the case under the Prophet and the Four Caliphs. Yuldashev also believes that it is necessary to revert to the customs and rituals of the period of the Prophet and to give up rituals developed by different madhhabs and sunnahs (for example, to pray twice a day instead of five times, to simplify burial ceremonies, and so on). The leader of the group suggested the following stages:

1. The Sirli (hidden, clandestine) stage – the selection and raising in special halqa (circles) of the future members of the group, instilling into them and training them in the above ‘original Islamic rituals’. Neophytes (mushrifs), those who successfully pass this stage, continue to a ‘mystery’ ritual including swearing an oath on the Qur’an to be true to their other buradars (brethren).

2. The Maddiy (material) stage – the creation of a material base through the efforts of all members of the new movement. The neophytes secure jobs in public production organizations where ‘brethren’ are already employed, or small industrial or agricultural enterprises founded by members of the group. Every member contributes one-fifth of his pay to the common till (Bayt al-Mal).

3. The Ma’nawiy (spiritual) stage – constant ‘spiritual association’ with a strictly established (for secrecy’s sake) circle of brethren. Discussions and collective praying are conducted by na’ibs, heads of local bodies.

4. The Uzwiy maydan (organic influence, merger). This signifies actual ‘legalization’ inside power structures through ‘spiritual recruitment’ of officials or through planting their own people there. This stage is seen as rather responsible in the process of expanding and legalizing the community’s status.

5. The Akhirat (concluding, final) stage in which, Akramists believe, ‘genuine Islamization’ of society and ‘natural transition’ of power to the leaders of the group is to take place.

The above provisions are still strongly influenced by the corresponding stages of the Hizb at-tahrir. However, the attempt to adapt them to the environment shows that some leaders of Uzbekistan’s fundamentalists tried to develop their own theories.

Some difference from Hizb at-tahrir can also be seen in Akramiyyah’s structure, which was based on a special production-and-distribution community (jama’ah). It controlled small agricultural enterprises, funds and storage facilities. All this property and common funds (Bayt al-Mal) were distributed in the shape of aid to members of the brotherhood with many children, neophytes and sometimes simply to ‘sympathizers’. Members of the group tried to organize their own enterprises, production shops, small restaurants, stores, and so on, in order to provide their members with jobs. The very principle of solving economic difficulties using the traditional community approach merits special attention. In conditions prevailing in Fergana, with low pay and unemployment, this socioeconomic programme proved very effective in increasing membership of the group.

Inside the jama’ah the cells (halqa) were organized according to their members’ trade: the halqa of tailors, the halqa of shoemakers, and so on. Every Akramite was supposed to bring his wives and adult children into their groups. The women were receiving separate instruction. Members of the group were supposed to marry members of the communities. Akramiyyah communities are found in the Andizhan region, Namangan, Kokand, Osh (Kyrgyzstan) and some other regions in Uzbekistan (I am not informed about the situation in the Tajik part of Fergana). Akramiyyah activities have been prohibited in the republic and its leader A. Yuldashev arrested on charges under Article 248 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan, ‘Possession of weapons, ammunition and explosives’.

Thus, when perestroika began and independence followed, the fundamentalists were much better prepared than their opponents, the representatives of the official Hanafite madhhab and ordinary people who practiced ‘everyday Islam’. The fundamentalists responded to the natural political and social passiveness of the latter with active campaigning and managed rather quickly to win a place in the van of re-Islamization. Their politicization followed from their answer to the question (as had been the case with similar movements in other Muslim countries) whether the territory of their country was the Dar al-Islam, the zone into which they could and should expand, or the Dar al-Harb, the abode of war. Any fundamentalist has more than enough arguments in favour of the latter. Judging by the sermons (wa’iz) of their leaders in Fergana and Tashkent, before 1991 Dar al-Harb was interpreted as a stand-off of the minority of Muslims against the majority of the ‘infidel’. When Uzbekistan became independent it retained its secular character. This induced the fundamentalists to change the notion of Dar al-Harb to be understood as the ‘infidel’ minority against the Muslim majority. Although this idea did not prove popular, the fundamentalists continued to regard the present political structures, which dated from the time of the perestroika, as illegitimate from Islam’s point of view. The fundamentalists’ hopes that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution would be amended, thereby declaring Uzbekistan an Islamic state, did not come true; this is why the political revival of Islam continues to be relevant among the fundamentalists.

In addition to the above-mentioned internal and external reasons and factors behind the fundamentalists’ idea of reviving the Caliphate, it is necessary to mention other conditions too, which contribute to the popularity of this idea among Muslims.

First of all the egalitarianism, which forms the basis of the idealized ‘original’ Caliphate, is being played up against the background of the ongoing processes of social and economic differentiation. These processes take the most acute form in Fergana, the most densely populated part of Uzbekistan, and especially among the young people who find it extremely difficult to find employment. Before 1995, a considerable proportion of the population began to improve their living by engaging in what is a traditional occupation in the Valley – regional and international trade (‘shuttle trade’, where people buy at cheap destinations abroad and sell at a profit in their own country). The ban that followed on the export of fruit and a number of other items, the poor solvency of the home market and the subsequent ban on the free exchange of currency cut short the process of a formation of a ‘middle merchant class’, the members of which were brought to ruin. These people joined the ranks of the supporters of the ideas of the Caliphate, which advocate free trade. The state programme on developing medium and small agricultural and industrial production is moving extremely slowly, owing to the absence of differentiated taxes and other effective protection of small and medium businesses. In the meantime, the supporters of the Caliphate present an alternative, which is populist and unrealistic but still attractive to private business. They claim that their alternative emanates from the very spirit of the legal and economic precepts of early Islam, which required the payment of zakat (1/40) and ‘ushr (not more than 10 per cent) in support of the poor. The fundamentalists’ idea of reverting to a socially and economically non-differentiated Islamic community is not new, but it is rather appealing under the current conditions in Uzbekistan. On the other hand, the impact of the idea of the Caliphate as the model of a perfect state system and a just government is growing even stronger in the context of the inept and often inappropriate actions of the republic’s power structures against individual groups of the faithful.

The Response by the Government and Prospects for the Future

Furthermore, counter-propaganda by the government mass media has been unconvincing and so far ineffective; but there is a more successful and more professionally organized attempt to campaign for non-political Islam as a cultural and religious heritage.

The republic’s television often carries interviews with repentant fundamentalists announcing their return to Hanafite law. There are also curious statements by members of the power structures to the effect that many members of our extremist Muslim organizations find shelter not only in Arab countries or Iran, but also in the Chechen Islamic Republic. They are said to undergo military training there. It is hard to verify this information. I could only establish that at least the rank-and-file members (mushrifs) of organizations of the Hizb at-tahrir type (mainly young men between 17 and 25 years of age) have rather regularly received from their leaders a small reward of $50 to $100 (this is virtually a subsistence wage in Uzbekistan). The same facts also surface during the course of an investigation into ‘extremist religious groups’, about which the Uzbek television and other media give information from time to time. There seem to be grounds to speak of foreign assistance in the form of literature and also direct financial support to the Hizb at-tahrir branch in Uzbekistan.

It is only now, in the wake of the bombings of 16 February 1999, that our government seems to be starting to realize that fundamentalism is one of the radical forms of protest against economic chaos and the indirect and direct pressures, and that the ‘Islamic factor’ calls for persistent attention. This is especially the case in Fergana, where the religious conscience of the masses of people has to be taken into account and forcible methods of struggle against Islamic fundamentalism have to be abandoned. There is no doubt that strong-arm methods are justified in a number of cases. However, the Islamists’ reaction to sustained pressures is easy to predict if one thinks of the sad experience of Algeria, Egypt and other Muslim countries. It is absolutely clear that the time has come to look for other ways and measures which are capable to at least stop, if not avert, the politicization and radicalization of Islam and, most importantly, to pay special attention to the ‘internal economic stimuli’ of the above-mentioned processes.

The measures outlined with the purpose of liquidating the social and economic stimulus to the growth of popularity of fundamentalist political ideas bring some hope. However, a great number of mistakes have already been made, intentionally or otherwise. Thus it seems to me that the political and extremist potential of the fundamentalists of Fergana and other regions of Uzbekistan have not yet been exhausted.


1 This circumstance gives them the name, or rather label, of khalifatchilar (Caliphatists) that gained initial currency among local Muslims and was later adopted by the official press (alongside names like Wahhabites, Islamic fundamentalists, Islamic extremists, etc.). As for the names assumed by these groups and communities (Ahl al-hadith, Ahl al-Qur’an, Iymnochmlar), they only reflect the most general direction of the ‘theoretical quest’ of their leaders, whose ideas apparently became formed under the influence of theorists of corresponding movements in Libya, Pakistan and other Muslim countries.

2 The Spiritual Board of the Muslims of Central Asia was founded in 1943 for centralized control over the activities of mosques.

3 According to Ma’rufdzhon qari (former teacher with Mir-i ’Arab), this campaign to ‘purge’ SAMCA and its institutions (including mosques) of the ‘anti-Soviet-minded ‘ulama and imams’ was launched by the former mufti Shamsiddin Babakhanov who, however, would not have been able to carry through such a campaign without the knowledge (and perhaps instructions) of the Committee for Religious Affairs.

4 Information from A. Negmatov, former employee at the Department for the Affairs of Religion of the Central Committee of the republic’s Communist Party. The local Komsomol committees tried the so-called ‘Komsomol weddings’ as a special ‘countermeasure’, putting up certain sums of money to organize them. According to my observations, however, even those families that agreed to such weddings because of their poor standard of living contrived to carry out the nikah for young couples before the ‘Komsomol repasts’.

5 Academic institutions were also pressed into this ‘war on the backward way of thinking’. For example, employees of humanities research institutes were required to tour the provinces to lecture on atheistic subjects.

6 Special zeal in this campaign was shown by the ex-director of the Institute of Archeology of Uzbekistan’s Academy of Sciences, Academician A. A. Askarov, under whose supervision some ‘graves’ were dug up (Samarkand, Andizhan, Namangan) which contained, according to traditional beliefs of the local populations, the ‘earthly remains’ of imagined and real Muslim (or Islam canonized) ‘saints’. By a twist of fate, Askarov was thrown out of the Academy in 1998 on charges of ‘Wahhabism’ (this may have resulted from a ‘clan purge’).

7 The campaign to clear mazars of ‘pagan attributes’ was continued by fundamentalists and Islamists in 1990–93.

8 In the meantime all the failures and, even more so, misfortunes in the lives of those who ‘performed and supervised’ the above acts were regarded as the ‘revenge of the holy spirits’.

9 These include the burning by pilgrims of candles at gravesides, the tying up of ‘wish ribbons’, the rubbing of ‘holy dust’ over the face, loud weeping, and so on.

10 Some researchers of religious processes in Central Asia think that the higher the religious figures’ level of knowledge the more liberal and tolerant they should be. On the contrary – a good knowledge of religious norms and rules does not lead to conniving for their violation

11 No statistics have yet been published on the number of mosques built at the end of and after perestroika with money from foreign donors (mainly from Saudi Arabia). According to our observations, however, the biggest and costliest of them (e.g., the cathedral mosque in Fergana’s Kasan) were built in Fergana.

12 Most people live in the south of the valley and on the flood plains in the upper reaches of the Syr Darya (the districts of Namangan, Margilan, Andizhan, Kokand) where the density of population is even greater.

13 The replacement of the SAMCA leadership and the new mufti was initially well received by the faithful.

14 As of early Mar. 1999, there were 1310 mosques in the republic: 141 in the Andizhan region; 162 in the Namangan region; and 169 in the Fergana region (information by courtesy of A. Negmatov).

15 Addressing the republic’s parliament (Oliy majlis) 16 Feb. 1999, President I. A. Karimov stated his readiness to thwart any unlawful arrest and condemned the improper treatment of loyal religious figures.

16 The high quality of printing (something even the major local publishers still cannot achieve) indicates that all of Hizb at-tahrir literature comes in from abroad, i.e., from Arab countries (mainly Libya, it seems, where the Amir party has its headquarters and printing facilities). In the recent past, such literature was planted in mosques and put in mailboxes.


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