Bakhodir Ergashev, D.Sc. (Philos.), professor, head of the Social Sciences and Humanities Department, University of World Economy and Diplomacy (Tashkent, Uzbekistan)
The New Year celebrations were the most important event of the beginning of 2005, demonstrating that the republic’s confessional life had reached maturity. In his New Year Address to the nation, the president pointed out that 2005, declared as the Year of Health, should be used “to mobilize all the resources of the state, society, non-commercial, and commercial structures and pool them together for the sake of the nation’s health.” This meant that the religious structures, together with the state structures, were invited to contribute to the major social programs and political decision-making. In this way Uzbekistan, a multinational and poly-confessional state, acquired additional and very effective potential.
In 2005, there were 2,202 religious organizations in Uzbekistan belonging to 16 confessions; 2,016, or 91.5 percent belonged to Islam. There were 170 Christian organizations, eight Jewish and six Bahai communities, one Krishna society, and one Buddhist temple in the republic. About 20 religious organizations were registered in 2005.
In 2005, there were 46 teachers and lecturers teaching religious and secular subjects at the Tashkent Islamic Institute; 231 worked in the madrasahs, 20 at the Orthodox seminary, and 15 at the Protestant seminary.
In 2005, the Koranic readers from Uzbekistan took the leading places at the International Contest of Koranic Readers in Kazan (Russia).
Between 7 and 17 January, the Cathedral of the Dormition in Tashkent and other churches organized their annual Christmas celebrations for children. There was information that over 50,000 children from Christian families and from families belonging to different confessions attended the celebrations and received traditional Christmas gifts. The Tashkent and Central Asian Eparchy organized the festive events with the help of Sunday school pupils and their parents. The children performed verses and songs for the Christ Child, watched performances, etc.
President Karimov’s interview, which appeared on 14 January in Nezavisimaia gazeta (Russia), offered a theoretical interpretation of the official conception of enlightened Islam. The head of state said in the interview: “There is traditional, enlightened Islam, and there is also militant Islam, which is coming to the fore.” He went on to say: “Militant Islam wants to dominate the billion and a half Muslims devoted to traditional Islam. …They want to turn Islam into a weapon to fight Christianity and other confessions. This has added terrorist tinges to Islam,” said the president, “which repels the Islamic world and creates even more tension in its relations with the rest of the world.”
On 21 January, Uzbekistan celebrated the holy Muslim feast of Kurban Hayit together with the Islamic world. (Back in June 1991, the president made this religious festival a day off.) On that day, people prayed in all the mosques, which caused practically no trouble. In his message to the president of Uzbekistan, which appeared in all the national newspapers, U.S. President George W. Bush emphasized “Uzbekistan’s firm support of the United States’ counterterrorist struggle” and pointed out that his country “was prepared to work together with Uzbekistan in building up political and economic institutions.”1 This and other facts demonstrated that the world community partly supported Tashkent’s policy regarding freedom of conscience.
Nearly all the confessions took part in a series of charitable acts in support of the victims of the tsunami (which happened on 26 December, 2004 in Southeast Asia). On 23 January, the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Tashkent organized a charity concert attended by diplomats; it was a response to Pope John Paul II’s appeal to pool forces to help the natural disaster victims. Muslim, Jewish, and other communities organized similar events. The largest Uzbek NGOs (the Women’s Committee, the Kamolot Public Movement, etc.) and foreign organizations (the Red Cross) organized the widest campaigns.
The Kuwait International Islamic Charitable Organization set up in 1989 by Emir Jabr al-Ahmad Jabr as-Sabah came to Uzbekistan in December 1995. Together with other foreign organizations, it actively contributed to the religious and educational activities among the Muslims. It helped orphans; extended material support to poor families; dug new and restored old wells, and distributed scholarships among the best students, etc. (In Uzbekistan, it dug new and restored 34 artesian wells with pure drinking water; and 250 students of male and female madrasahs received scholarships.) Under the Continuity of Cultural Heritage project, the charity awarded the annual Abdulaziz al-Babtin Prize to authors of the best books, archeological and historical studies, and publications of ancient manuscripts. In the Year of Health, the Foundation sent free medicine to the Andijan, Namangan, and Ferghana regions.
In 2005, the year 1426 of Hegira began on 10 February. This date, as well as the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (which fell on 21 April in 2005), is not as widely celebrated as Christmas among the Christians, but symbolizes unity of all the confessions present in Uzbekistan. The country celebrates Navruz, which, though not a purely Muslim feast, is widely celebrated across the East. On that day, the national cultural centers organize concerts in all the settlements across the country.
The leaders of practically all the religious communities present in Uzbekistan offered their condolences to the Catholics of Uzbekistan and the world regarding the death of Pope John Paul II. (He was highly respected in Uzbekistan; in the past he received the president of Uzbekistan during the latter’s Italian visit. The nation was aware of the Pope’s support of the Uzbek nation in connection with the terrorist acts. On 22 March, 2005, the Pope elevated the status of the Mission in Uzbekistan to the level of the Apostolic Administration.) On 6 April, 2005, a memorial liturgy was performed in the Roman Catholic Church attended by about 250, A. Iunusov, deputy mufti, among them. Premier of Uzbekistan Sh. Mirzieev offered condolences to the Vatican in the name of the country’s leaders.
In small hours of 1 May, the Orthodox Christians of Uzbekistan, together with the rest of the Christian Orthodox world, celebrated the great religious holiday—the Resurrection of Christ. All the churches of the Tashkent and Central Asian Eparchy held holiday Easter services. Orthodox Christians celebrated the great holiday in all the large cities of Uzbekistan. At night, several thousand Orthodox Christians attended the Easter service in the Cathedral of Dormition in Tashkent. On 2 May, the second day of Easter, the Holy Fire delivered from Jerusalem was distributed at the Easter Evening Service; clerics of the eparchy were awarded on the occasion of Easter 2005, and greetings from Metropolitan of Tashkent and Central Asia Vladimir were read.
On 6 May festive events—readings, a concert, and an exhibition of Easter eggs, Easter cakes, and artistic objects—were held in the new building of the Spiritual Administrative Center of Tashkent. Before that, similar undertakings were carried out by professional performers in the capital’s largest concert halls. In 2005, the events organized by Sunday school pupils in the Christian Orthodox churches and cathedrals were more of a family nature and attracted more people. The Easter Message of Metropolitan of Tashkent and Central Asia Vladimir said in particular: “The Most High gave us life in a peaceful spiritually free land. We celebrate Resurrection in beautiful churches, the image of Heaven on earth.”2 Members of the Committee for Religious Affairs under the Cabinet of Ministers, the Tashkent Seminary, the Russian Cultural Center, and Institute of Design attended all the Easter events.
The Andijan events subjected the religious and political situation in the country to a serious test. The riot was predated by public actions caused, according to experts, by mass unemployment in the area, which made it easier for the Islamists to carry out their destructive actions. It was the Akramists, a Muslim movement which tried to capture power with the help of a relatively novel method, “religious entrepreneurship,” who triggered the riots. The sect was out to prove its unique right to carry the “economic reforms,” to be the only defender of the interests of the “destitute,” and to restore the “historic right of the Caliphate.”
Between 1995 and 1999, the founder, Akram Iuldashev, incarcerated for his crimes in the local prison, and his cronies “amended” the holy religion of Islam, which means that they sinned against their religion. The destructive sect was out to extend the circle of their supporters in Ferghana and even beyond it; they tried to disseminate their “novel” ideas to set up something like the Caliphate. The failed actions the Akramists designed to destabilize the situation first in Andijan and then in the capital revealed to the world community their true nature and true intentions.
The clergy contributed to the general efforts to improve the country’s positive image damaged by the Andijan events. One of the most popular clerics, former Mufti Sheikh Muhammad Sodik Muhammad Iusuf, described human rights as one of the central international issues and “powerful politics.” He wrote: “All advanced countries are proud of their full observance of human rights at home and call on other states to follow their example. The leading countries make good relations with other states conditional on respect for human rights. If this approach proves ineffective, they apply certain punitive measures to the most obstinate of the regimes. …They never hesitate to pretend that they respect these rights. In fact, the so-called human rights issue is but part of the theory of rights that the Shari‘a has studied and applied from time immemorial.”3
On 14 May, Papal State Secretary of the Vatican Cardinal Angelo Sadano consecrated Father Yerzy Maculewicz, head of the Apostolic Administration in Uzbekistan, as bishop. Later the inauguration of this first Catholic bishop in Uzbekistan was held in the Tashkent cathedral. Uzbekistan regarded this as a “great honor,” not only for the local Catholic community, but also for the entire country, and as recognition of domestic stability. There are about 4,000 Catholics in Uzbekistan divided into six parishes served by ten Franciscans; there are three monks and ten nuns working in the country.4
On 25 May, the U.S. State Department classified the Islamic Jihad group as a terrorist organization, which means that its property and shares in properties of others in the United States, under U.S. jurisdiction, or controlled by American citizens should be blocked. On 30 July, 2004, this group organized a series of blasts in Tashkent at the American and Israeli embassies and the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Uzbekistan. The blasts killed at least two and wounded nine. The Islamic Jihad assumed responsibility for these acts and threatened more attacks.
The attitude of the local and world Jewish communities toward the Andijan events deserves special mention: they demonstrated their profound understanding of the global nature of the events in Andijan and elsewhere in the world. Many active members of the Jewish and other diasporas objected to using the protest potential of religious-extremist and terrorist movements for the purpose of the Color Revolutions. On 14 May, spokesmen of the local synagogues announced that they had nothing to do with the Andijan events, that the Jewish communities were still functioning under normal conditions.
Uzbekistan took part in the work of the Council of the Jewish Sephardic Communities of the CIS set up in Moscow on 28 July with the aim of preserving the Sephardic Jews’ ethnic, cultural, and religious identity in the CIS countries, giving them a religious educational infrastructure, and encouraging research into the history, philology, and literature of the Sephardim. The Sephardic Jews (Jews of Bukhara and Georgia, and Mountain Jews), who boast a highly original ancient culture, are facing assimilation, which is a major problem.
According to Chief Rabbi of Central Asia David Gurevich, there are 35,000 to 40,000 Jews living in Tashkent. There is a school for 200 pupils, a kindergarten for 27, where the children get free kosher food four times a day, there is a women’s club called Geula, and a mikvah (a pool for ritual ablutions). There are 500 Jews living in Andijan, where there is a small synagogue. Approximately the same number lives in Ferghana, where a synagogue with a small Sunday school was recently opened and registered. The best Jewish school and the oldest Central Asian synagogue are still functioning in Bukhara.
On 12 July, a large volume called Islom ziyosi uzbegim siymosida (The Light of Islam on Uzbek Faces) was presented at the Tashkent Islamic University under the Cabinet of Ministers. The ceremony was attended by heads of state and public organizations, scholars, prominent theologians, diplomats, and members of international organizations accredited in Uzbekistan. The book published in Uzbek, Arabic, and English contains 16 chronologically arranged presidential decrees, 48 cabinet decisions issued in 1990-2005, and extracts from presidential works and speeches at international forums and other events. The book is illustrated by 225 photographs.
In 2005, 128 bachelors and 20 masters graduated from the Tashkent Islamic University, the largest in Central Asia, where young men study theology and secular subjects. In 2005, the university enrolled students into the departments of fiqh, economic and natural sciences (Islamic law, world economy and international economic relations, informatics and information technology), the history of Islam, and philosophy (religious studies). Candidates for master’s degrees were enrolled to study religious and Islamic disciplines, Islamic law, legal systems of foreign countries, computers, mathematical modeling, and the use of mathematical methods in research.
The fact that the cultural-national centers and members of all the religious confessions took part in the countrywide celebrations (9 May—Day of Memory and Honors; 21 March—Navruz; 1 October—Day of Teachers and Tutors, etc.) helped the world community understand the religious and political situation in Uzbekistan. The greetings the Uzbekistan leader received on Independence Day, the annual holiday celebrated on 1 September, gave food for thought. This is true, in particular, of the telegram the president of Uzbekistan received from Pope Benedict XVI: the new Vatican leaders were obviously prepared to cooperate with Tashkent. (The Uzbek delegation attended the burial ceremony of Pope John Paul II.) The congratulations which arrived from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Israel, and other countries were just as eloquent.
Early in September, famous French singer Charles Aznavour, who had arrived for the Shark Taronalari Music Festival, visited the Church of Our Lady in Samarkand, the only church of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Central Asia. The Armenian diaspora in Uzbekistan is fairly large—over 50,000 members, for whom moral support of their compatriots is much more than a cultural gesture. (The Armenians played and continue playing a great role in the region’s social and economic life and have an immense impact on the decision-making process at the international level.)
Uzbekistan took part in the First International Festival of Muslim Cinema “Golden Minbar” which opened on 5 September in Kazan to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of the Tartar capital. Over 70 films from 18 countries competed in three categories—feature films, documentaries, and cartoons. In the last three years, cinema in Uzbekistan has been on the upsurge; spiritual issues and enlightenment, which dominate national cinema, prevail over the mass culture. In 2005, the state-owned TV channels showed Korean, Indian, and Japanese films for the simple reason that Uzbekistan has a great deal in common in the spiritual sphere with these Eastern nations.
The visit of the Apostolic Nuncio for Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, which took place on 13-15 September, allowed the sides to discuss issues related to the life of the Catholic community in Uzbekistan, as well as social and political problems. He interceded for High Mass of the Triumph of the Holy Cross in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Tashkent. The Archbishop emphasized that the charitable activity of the Catholic organizations in Uzbekistan was of a cultural rather than religious nature and pursued educational aims. He also touched upon poverty in Uzbekistan, which, in his opinion, is widespread: he believed that mental patients and prisoners were among the poorest groups.
On 4 October, the Muslims of Uzbekistan started the “uraza” fasting, one of the central Islamic commandments. The same day, Koranic readings were launched in all mosques across the country with the help of guest readers—the kori. According to the mufti, 1,500 Uzbek Muslims visited the holy land of Saudi Arabia to see the Prophet-related places. The first pilgrims left on 20 September. On the whole, according to the information Mufti of Uzbekistan A. Bakhromov supplied to foreign media, since the first year of independence about 50,000 Uzbek Muslims have performed hajj to Mecca and Medina.
Scholarly studies of the history and proliferation of the Holy Koran have been going on at their usual pace; much was done in cooperation with European academics. Efim Rezvan, a prominent Orientalist from St. Petersburg, studied Koranic manuscripts. On 19 October, an ethnographic expedition of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (known as the Kunstkammer) of the Russian Academy of Sciences arrived in Uzbekistan. Later, in the fall, Efim Rezvan’s definitive work Koran Osmana (St. Petersburg—Bukhara—-Samarkand—Tashkent) (The Osman Koran [St. Petersburg-Bukhara-Samarkand-Tashkent]) was awarded a diploma at the International Koranic Exhibition held in Tehran.
The world Islamic community highly appreciated the Koran in the Brail system, 1,000 copies of which were published in Uzbekistan with the help of the Kuwait International Islamic Charitable Organization. It was the first attempt of this sort in the CIS and the third successful effort in the world. Presented at the International Exhibition “The Art of Book Printing,” it was awarded a diploma in the “Book of Fascinating Fate” nomination. It should be said that the RF embassy was also engaged in religious educational activities. It distributed the Koran free of charge among its Muslim expatriates in Uzbekistan.
In mid-October, a book by Premier of Malaysia Abdullah Badawi Islam Khadari (Islamic Civilization) appeared in Uzbek in Tashkent, in which he offered his original conception, which had much in common with the conception of enlightened Islam mentioned above. The book contained the speech the prime minister presented at the 55th Congress of the United National Organization, of which he was the head. His conception rests on ten major principles: loyalty to Allah; fair government which enjoys people’s confidence; free nation; economic growth; high living standards; protection of the rights of women and national minorities; unity of the cultural and moral environment; environmental protection; and the country’s efficient defensibility. For obvious reasons Tashkent needs the experience of an economically prosperous Muslim country to promote its own ideas about the social role of Islam.
On 27 October, the Roman Catholic cathedral in Tashkent hosted an inter-religious function to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the “Nostra Aetate” Declaration on the Attitude of the Catholic Church to Non-Christian Religions. The Jewish community initiated the events attended by the leaders of the Muslim, Christian Orthodox, Evangelical Lutheran, and other communities. It is common knowledge that Israel regards the Declaration “as a historic step of the Catholic Church toward its own people.” Those who attended the event agreed that all the confessions present in Uzbekistan could freely communicate with the Muslims and among themselves to promote moral values, peace and freedom—in fact, everything that the Declaration called on to preserve.
The holy month of Ramazan ended on Thursday, 3 November. The Muslims marked the end of the month-long fasting with Ruza Hayit, the First Meal after Fast feast. According to Mufti of the Muslims of Uzbekistan Abdurashid Kori Bakhromov, “the faithful attended the morning festive prayers held in all 1,947 mosques of the republic.” Normally urban mosques are more crowded on holidays than village mosques; prayers there are led by people with higher Islamic education well versed in the psychology of communication with the faithful, in politics, and in the most complicated religious issues.
In mid-December, a Saudi delegation led by Chairman of the Consultative Council (Shura) Saleh bin Homaed paid an official visit to Uzbekistan. The guests had the opportunity to see that the state and the umma were moving to meet each other halfway; to be convinced that religious activities were going on unhampered, and to establish contacts with the local Muslim community. This was not the first visit of Saudis to Uzbekistan: earlier they came to study the position of Islam in the country, as well as the charitable activities of the local business community.
On 25 December, the heterodox and some Christian communities celebrated Christmas to thank God “for His love and salvation through His Beloved Son.” This holiday has been freely celebrated in Uzbekistan for 14 years now—a sure sign of the tolerance the political regime demonstrates toward all Christian trends. The country’s leaders proclaimed religious tolerance part of the state’s policy and national idea. This is always mentioned when it comes to inter-national and inter-religious cooperation, which, in turn, helps to stem extremism.
About 5,000 will perform the hajj from Uzbekistan to Saudi Arabia (1,200 more than in 2004). The mufti explained the higher figure by “improved living standards.” He also added: “The peasants produced more cotton and grain than expected; many farmers earned enough to pay for the hajj.” Those Uzbek Muslims who stay at home for various reasons (the most obvious of them being lack of space in the holy places for over 1 billion faithful) will celebrate the holiday at home in keeping with the long-established traditions.
1 Khalk suzi, 13 May, 2005. Back to text
2 Available at [www.pravoslavie.uz]. Back to text
3 Available at [www.islam.uz]. Back to text
4 Available at [newsru.com]. Back to text