By Asker Sultanov
BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz turned out in large numbers in Bishkek June 3 to celebrate the start of Ramadan.
The editorial board of Ummah, a Kyrgyz Islamic magazine, organised a local festival called "Ramadan is a festival for the soul!".
The event was timed to coincide with the start of Ramadan, which came a few days later, Eliana-Maryam Satarova, editor-in-chief of Ummah, told Central Asia Online. It included trivia games, other contests and performances by various artists.
Festival-goers were able to learn about halal food and "about fasting, rules for compliance and nutrition", Satarova said. "We arranged a public reception where anyone who wanted could come ask questions."
"Islamic specialists explained the differences between traditional Islam and extremism," she said.
It is essential to convey to the public that Muslims are peace-loving and socially active, Satarova said.
"We want to show positive things about Islam," Satarova said. "Islamophobia has arisen after ... terrorist attacks and activity by the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' [ISIL]."
"Many stereotypes exist," she said. "Our society urgently needs this kind of event."
The event took place for the first time last year, when the public response was very encouraging, Satarova said.
"The holy month of Ramadan is a month of love, peace and kindness," Satarova said. "We hold this event in public places. Everybody ... can attend these activities and learn that not all Muslims are warlike."
Turnout was high among urban youth, Almaz Sapanov, an employee of Kyrgyzstan Islamic University in Bishkek, told Central Asia Online.
Sapanov gave advice on Islamic questions to anyone who wanted it during the festival.
"People often ask, 'How can I distinguish extremism from Islam'? Sapanov said. "Young people already have learned to recognise extremism."
"We are noticing positive results [of religious education]," he said. "Our religion demands study ... through books, not the internet."
"We have a muftiate, qaziyat [Islamic judge's office]. mosques, imams and an Islamic university," Sapanov continued. "Let the people come to all of them and ... ask questions. After a month or two, they will understand Islam."
"It is gratifying to see so many people come here," Nursultan, an employee at a Bishkek company called Kyrgyz Concept, told Central Asia Online. He did not disclose his last name.
"This event is useful because in recent years Islam has been defamed as a religion of terrorism," Nursultan said. "Today's event provides a chance to convey what Islam is ... a religion of peace and tolerance."
Nurgul Chukubekova, a specialist at the Halal Industry Development Centre in Bishkek, worked at the festival. Her centre held an outdoor reception where the public could learn about halal food.
"The issue of extremism is very acute in Kyrgyzstan," she told Central Asia Online. "We can control the situation by accentuating education for Muslims."
Such events instill tolerance above all, Bishkek retiree Valentina Pogojeva told Central Asia Online.
"I am glad anyone can participate, Muslim, Christian or those who happen to be nearby," she said. "For us, the main aspiration is peace ... for there to be no news about terrorists in the newspapers or TV because the problem was solved."