TASHKENT -- Devout Muslims are teaming up to fight destructive ideas and to promote the peacefulness and tolerance that characterise Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan's theologians and religious leaders, who are concerned about the threat from extremist ideologies, convened at the Baha-ud-Din Naqshband memorial complex in Bukhara Province November 2 to evaluate ways of countering the threat.
They discussed the events occurring in the Middle East and condemned the terrorist attacks carried out worldwide in the name of Islam, said Shavkat Khamdamov, a spokesman for the Committee for Religious Affairs. The imam-khatibs and ulema decided to implement a public awareness campaign to oppose the extremist message, he said.
"In order to support peace and stability, it is important to unite the efforts of the country's religious figures, to call on people to be vigilant and to reveal the lies of extremist movements that spread the ideas of intolerance," he told Caravanserai.
Religious leaders call for tolerance, inter-faith dialogue
Uzbekistan is already an example of multi-faith coexistence, with its population practicing 16 religions. About 90% of the population practises Islam, according to the government's Committee for Religious Affairs (KDR).
"In the years since our independence, we have not documented a single conflict or case of discrimination on religious, ethnic or racial grounds," Ortikbek Yusupov, the chairman of the Committee for Religious Affairs, said at a news conference held at the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan October 15, according to Pravda Vostoka. "The state's policy of strengthening inter-faith dialogue played an important role in this process."
Uzbekistan at the same time has worked to earn credibility in the Muslim world by calling for the preservation of traditional Muslim values and by developing Islamic education.
On October 20, as Caravanserai previously reported, Uzbekistan assumed the rotating chairmanship of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC). In the Tashkent Declaration, attendees of the OIC countries' foreign ministers' summit -- held in Tashkent October 18-19 -- committed to "dissemination of knowledge about enlightened Islam", according to the OIC website.
"The Islamic region ... condemns any violence and destruction," Uzbekistani Grand Mufti Usmonkhon Alimov said at the November 2 Bukhara Province conference, according to religions.uz. "It encourages people to fight these kinds of ills."
Educating youth, fighting ignorance and extremist ideology
The conference participants in Bukhara Province agreed on the need to step up the spiritual education of youth.
"We decided that we need to keep explaining the dangers of ignorance and of the ideology of violence to young people," Khamdamov said of the Bukhara Province event. "We assigned imams and ulema to work on youths' spiritual and patriotic education."
At the same time, secular schools and universities in Uzbekistan are fighting extremism too.
On October 29, the National University of Uzbekistan (NUU) hosted an outreach event called "Religious extremism, terrorism and their negative consequences", attended by professors and undergraduates.
"Specialists described the impact of extremism on the younger generation and showed a documentary," NUU spokesman Bobir Shoyusupov told Caravanserai. "The students received answers to questions that [they posed]."
"When I look at the freshmen and sophomores, especially the ones from the remote provinces, I realise that these meetings matter to them," NUU student Lobar Bozorova told Caravanserai. "Many of them are only becoming acquainted with the internet ... They need to have the dangers of recruitment explained in laymen's terms."
Meanwhile, Uzbekistani law enforcement is doing its share by sending dangerous extremists to prison.
"On November 6 in Tashkent, a court convicted four [extremists]," Arif Atajanov, a spokesman for the Prosecutor General's Office, told Caravanserai. "They were spreading extremist propaganda ... and involved other people. The court proved their affiliation with ISIL [the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant]."
The defendants received sentences of 5 to 10 years, Atajanov said.