By Asker Sultanov
BISHKEK -- Operating for three years now, Kyrgyzstan's sole Muslim magazine is busy helping the government fight extremism, especially among youth, its editor-in-chief told Caravanserai.
Umma publishes quarterly in two languages -- Kyrgyz and Russian -- with a circulation of 3,000.
Besides hard copies, it uses its website and social media pages to disseminate opinion pieces, interviews and other materials.
Accurate information about Islam and about various religious movements especially matters to Russian audiences as they lack other such publications and do not understand Kyrgyz-language sermons, said editor-in-chief Eliana Maryam Satarova.
"Our writers include journalists, theologians, scholars of Islam and other experts," she told Caravanserai. "The magazine is accessible to everyone -- it is an intellectual platform for the young, and [talented and gifted] youth also contribute."
"We try to make the articles understandable to a broad audience, so that both a teenager and an ordinary resident of Kyrgyzstan can understand the material," she said.
The magazine has an audience of more than 17,000 online subscribers, said Umma journalist Aykol Balotbekova. In addition, every article posted on Facebook receives between 2,000 to 30,000 views, she said.
"We hope that our [media] has the opportunity to swiftly convey information to a large number of [readers]," she told Caravanserai. "That's why we use our resources for the religious education of the public."
The magazine educates its readers about legal aspects of Islam, she added.
"Any form of extremism stems from a lack of knowledge," she said. "A radical has a very narrow vision of the world, and only through education can we combat extremism and terrorism. Our role as journalists is to get correct information about Islam across to as many [readers] as possible."
The publication enlightens its readers about Islam from a correct and fair perspective, said one reader, Samat Borombayev of Bishkek.
"The main message is to inform readers that Islam welcomes a constructive spirit," he told Caravanserai. "The magazine calls for returning to that wellspring where Islam is pure of any contrived context of ideologies. I like that Umma is waging information warfare against extremists and terrorists."
Injustice, socio-economic resentment and sometimes psychological problems can lead to radicalisation, but the main issue is a lack of religious education, Satarova said.
"Youth who lack a solid religious foundation become a weapon for various radical groups," she said. "Studies also show that someone who grows up in a family where he witnessed no religious practises becomes the victim of radical ideas more easily."
Many Kyrgyz parents lack the religious knowledge to teach their children and "youth get their information off the internet, so we believe that religious education of the public is important", Balotbekova said.
"Umma magazine regularly conducts social, humanitarian and charitable activities in Bishkek and Osh, aimed at uniting youth and helping them realise their potential," Satarova said.
"We conduct debate clubs where experts, theologians and college students participate. We broadcast public service announcements on television about spiritual and family values."
Umma magazine is "making a significant contribution to educating youth and fighting radicalism and develops spiritual values", Denis Pyshkin, a senior investigator for Chui Province police, told Caravanserai.
The magazine fulfills a key educational mission, said Bishkek-based women's activist and Zhashasyn Kyrgyzstan (Long Live Kyrgyzstan) party leader Toktayym Umetaliyeva.
"All young people surf the internet and gain knowledge from it," she told Caravanserai. "But a portion of the population has no internet access. Magazines like Umma that conduct a purposeful policy of religious education and prevention of radicalism should be supported by the state."
Umma magazine is "essential because it conveys the true values of Islam", she argued.
"The magazine steers the public away from the misconceptions that are necessary to foment conflicts in society and are the foundation for extremists' pronouncements," she said.