Muslims in Kyrgyzstan defend their religion

By Sanzhar Sharipov

Muslims attend Friday prayers June 24 in Batken. [Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan photo obtained by Sanzhar Sharipov]

Muslims attend Friday prayers June 24 in Batken. [Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan photo obtained by Sanzhar Sharipov]

BATKEN, Kyrgyzstan -- Muslims in Kyrgyzstan continue to speak out against extremists' efforts to distort their faith.

The work comes as authorities concede that hundreds of radicalised Kyrgyz have joined militants in Syria and Iraq since 2011.

One effort took place June 21 in Batken city, when devout Muslims convened to discuss ways to prevent the recruitment of youth by the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL).

At the meeting, Isakbai Murzabekov, chief of the southern department of the State Commission for Religious Affairs (GKDR), noted the government's goal of conducting further preventive work in 2015 to 2020.

"The government is drastically re-examining its attitude toward the religious situation," he said at the event. "It is taking into account that 85% of the Kyrgyz population considers itself Muslim."

"Our assistance in promoting moderate Islamic values is an important mechanism for protecting the national interest," he said.

The goal of further outreach work is part of a long-term policy on religion that the government announced in 2014.

Promoting education

"Another major goal of the [2014 strategy] is to advance religious education and to improve Islamic studies," Murzabekov said. "We have a shortage of accurate information on matters of religion."

The government does need to pay more attention to education as a tool against radicalisation, Egemberdy Abylov, chief of staff for the governor of Batken Province, agreed, speaking to Central Asia Online.

"The younger generation is exposed to the ideas of 'jihad' because it lacks [religious] knowledge and life experience," Abylov said. "It requires education not only about Islamic issues but also about the history of religions, social sciences and other sciences."

Authorities should be conducting awareness-raising campaigns as often as possible, Abylov said.

Emphasising moderation

"Every Muslim is required to know about moderation in Islam," Pazylbek Sultanmuratov, the qazi (Islamic judge) of Batken Province, told Central Asia Online.

"Taking the middle ground helps one avoid crossing over ... into radical ideas," he said.

The Koran has verses that preach the need for moderation, such as "We willed you to be a community of the middle way," he said.

"Whoever turns to us ... we tell about moderation in Islam," he said.

Extremist recruiters purposely sow confusion and discord among Muslims, Shayirgul Akbotoyeva, a schoolteacher from Samarkandyk village, Batken Province, told Central Asia Online.

"They tarnish Islam," she said of the recruiters. "They put Muslims in a negative light."

Akbotoyeva called for the strictest measures against terrorists, killers and exploiters of discord, including life imprisonment.

"The measures taken by the Kyrgyz government to fight extremism and terrorism have begun to yield results," she said, referring to a recently reported decline in the number of Kyrgyz travelling to Syria. "Our frequent events concerning religion help people understand the fundamentals of Islam."

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Islam never upholds Kyrgyzstan's national interests; Islam is a system that provides a guarantee of happiness to all the people in this world, regardless of their religious faith, and of a peaceful world after death only for true Muslims. This is deception, pure and simple, and not an article.