Uzbek ulema denounce extremists

By Maksim Yeniseyev

Uzbekistani Grand Mufti Usmonkhon Alimov (centre) June 2 in Tashkent presents the book "Appeal by the World's Ulema". [Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Uzbekistan photo obtained by Maksim Yeniseyev]

Uzbekistani Grand Mufti Usmonkhon Alimov (centre) June 2 in Tashkent presents the book "Appeal by the World's Ulema". [Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Uzbekistan photo obtained by Maksim Yeniseyev]

TASHKENT -- Authoritative Uzbekistani scholars and imams, along with their Egyptian and Syrian colleagues, joined together to battle extremist propaganda with a new book titled, "Appeal by the World's Ulema".

The book came from the initiative of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Uzbekistan (DUMU). It includes fatwas and articles written by Uzbekistani, Egyptian and Syrian ulema about the extremists operating in the Middle East.

"We want to shield young people from the influence of extremists," Uzbekistani Grand Mufti Usmonkhon Alimov said at the presentation of the book in Tashkent June 2. "We ask Muslims to be vigilant about these kinds of people."

The volume debunks the arguments of various extremist and militant groups, including the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL).

Theologians in Uzbekistan hope the book will help its readers recognise the lies of extremists.

Extremist recruitment, casualties continue

The book came out as authorities continue to grapple with the extremist brainwashing and recruitment of Uzbekistanis.

Since 2011, more than 1,000 Uzbekistanis have journeyed to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside militants, according to various estimates.

More developments in the country's war against terrorism came in June.

On June 17, an Andijan court convicted two Uzbekistanis of promoting extremist ideas. One day later, Abu Bakr al-Uzbeki, an Uzbekistani terrorist leader, was killed in combat in Idlib Province, Syria.

The two convicted defendants were Orif Kholdarov and Otabek Zakirov, said Arif Atajanov, a spokesperson for the federal general prosecutor's office. "While working abroad, they ... began to promote the idea of 'jihad'."

"They were active on the internet," he told Caravanserai. "The court sentenced them to five years each."

Kholdarov and Zakirov, though, were smartphone warriors who circulated photos and videos, unlike the late al-Uzbeki, who fought for the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front in Syria.

Al-Masdar News June 18 reported al-Uzbeki's death in Idlib Province, but gave no personal information besides his citizenship -- not even his real name.

Urging readers to take caution

Mindful of the tragedies being visited on the families of misguided Uzbekistani extremists, various ulema used the book's pages to warn about the dangers of extremist propaganda.

"Don't believe anyone who summons you on the pretext of waging 'jihad' or performing the Hajj -- and then places you in a group of militants," DUMU Deputy Chairman Sheikh Abdulaziz Mansur wrote in his chapter.

"Militants' actions in the Middle East lead to ... public executions, the defilement of women, infanticide and other crimes -- all this has nothing to do with Islam," he said.

Combating extremist propaganda

Uzbekistan has been publishing a steady stream of anti-extremist literature. In 2015, the country issued "Strife [Fitna] Caused by ISIL," which described ISIL's lies and its misuse of social media to manipulate the vulnerable.

That same year, Uzbekistani theologian Sheikh Muhammad Sadik Muhammad Yusuf released a book called "An Open Letter," in which he rhetorically confronted the leaders of ISIL and other terrorist groups.

However, one distinctive trait of the new book is that the knowledgeable authors quote the Holy Koran while debunking the wild claims of extremists.

For example, one author in the book writes of terrorist groups, "Their deeds are un-Islamic and have false motivations."

"Truth has come and falsehood has departed," the author adds, citing Surah Al-Isra [17:81] of the Holy Koran.

Countering perils of online recruitment

The book's various authors devoted special attention to the threat of online extremist recruitment.

"The book provides advice on how to use modern media," Sheikh Abdulaziz Mansur said at the June 2 news conference. "Many young people fall into traps on sites created to promote radical ideas."

"As long as a baseless opinion issued by anyone can be considered a fatwa, we will lose the struggle for moderation," Egyptian Grand Mufti Shawki Allam wrote in his chapter.

Uzbekistani Muslims and imams reacted positively to the new book.

"It is very timely," Tashkent imam-khatib Odilkhon Ismoilov said at the news conference. "It was published at just the moment when many evil forces are attempting to lead people astray."

"I think it will be very beneficial for imams and khatibs," he added.

"The book is a must-read for every Muslim," Anvar-kori Tursunov, Tashkent's chief imam-khatib, said at the news conference.

Tashkent resident Bakhtier Mukhsimov had an idea for reaching more readers.

"The printed version is not the only one that needs to be distributed," he said. "It would be helpful to ... publish an online version on social media networks."

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