JALAL-ABAD PROVINCE -- Imams in southern Kyrgyzstan are working hard to defuse any radical sentiments that might be festering in their congregations.
The effort comes as Kyrgyzstan concedes that hundreds of citizens have joined the militancy in Syria and Iraq since 2011.
Clerics from throughout Jalal-Abad Province gathered in the Ergesh Haji mosque in Suzak District, Jalal-Abad Province, September 6 to discuss how they warn their congregations of the dangers of radicalism.
"Most of all, we are concerned about the recruiting of youths to go fight in Syria," Jyrgalbek Abdykalykov, a volunteer helper in a Jalal-Abad Province mosque, told Caravanserai. "Intensified work on this issue has saved dozens of locals who were planning to go there in secret."
Jobless and footloose are at risk
The young unemployed are the likeliest to be recruited for war in the Middle East, he said.
On the pretext of looking for work, they travel throughout the CIS, where they receive cash, documents and all the resources they need, he said.
"Their sponsors escort them to the Turkish-Syrian border, where recruiters take them to Syrian combat zones," Abdykalykov said.
Terrorist recruiters take advantage of some Muslims' naivete, he said, adding that they correspond with potential recruits on WhatsApp without letting on what they are up to, he added.
Imams are in close contact with Muslims almost every day, Manzura Khairullayeva, a woman from Suzak District, Jalal-Abad Province, told Caravanserai.
The imams try to persuade their listeners to observe moderate Islam, she said.
"In addition to giving sermons, the spiritual mentors explain the canons of Islam and what the suras and ayats mean," she said. "It is very important to convey ... that there can be no other interpretation like those the extremists use."
The responsibility of parents and clerics
Parents of high school and college students have a great responsibility to stay aware of their children's doings, Khairullayeva said.
"Such measures are taking place in our province too," Karazak haji Kojoyarov, deputy qazi (Islamic judge) of Batken Province told journalists September 14. "In Bujum village ... we have met with women to tell them about their role in preventing radicalisation of the rising generation."
Clerics and authorities educate women through various means, like holding contests for best Koran recitation and quizzes about the history of world religions, he said.
The role of the clergy in fighting extremism grows daily in the provinces, Bishkek theologian Apsamat Ryskeldiyev told Caravanserai.
"It is very important to engage imams in prevention," he said. "They have authority among the local population."
Religious freedom is essential, Tokon Mamytov, council chairman of the Assembly of the People of Kyrgyzstan and an advisor to the prime minister, said at a Bishkek news conference August 16.
"Radicalism begets extremism, which in turn begets terrorism," he said. "They are three links in a great chain that ... threatens not only Kyrgyzstan but also the whole world."
Allowing everyone to choose his or her religion is key to "preventing these three phenomena from spreading farther across our country", he said.