New mosque construction in Kyrgyzstan may help in radicalisation fight

By Erkin Kamalov

Clergy, government officials and local residents attend the opening ceremony for the Nurdin Ata Mosque in Biymyrza, Osh Province, August 8. [Osh Province Qaziyat]

Clergy, government officials and local residents attend the opening ceremony for the Nurdin Ata Mosque in Biymyrza, Osh Province, August 8. [Osh Province Qaziyat]

OSH -- A spate of mosque construction across Kyrgyzstan could help promote true Islam, educate the public and reduce youth radicalisation, say observers.

In the 1990s, during the dying days of Soviet atheism, the country had only 39 mosques, said Bishkek theologian Jarkynai Amatova, adding that now it has almost 3,000.

"On one hand, it's good to have the faithful openly going to mosque and demonstrating their commitment to Islam," she told Caravanserai. "But it's bad when some Muslims ignore mosques and pray in closed communities, where [theological] misinterpretations can lead to extremism."

Every city or town should have mosques whose imams can caution worshipers against radical views and thwart potential terrorist acts, she said.

Providing knowledge, protecting youth

Muslim communities need houses of prayer, agree local government officials.

"Mosques serve the faithful not only [by providing a place for] group prayer, but they are also a place where one can learn the fundamentals of Islam and gain ... valuable knowledge that could protect our youth from extremism and the desire to fight alongside militants in Syria," Primberdy Dyykanov, chief of Kara-Kulja District, Osh Province, said during the August 8 opening ceremony for the Nurdin Ata mosque in Biymyrza, as shown on Kyrgyz TV.

"The mosque was built thanks to foreign and local donors," Osh Province Qazi (Islamic judge) Samidin kary Atabayev told Caravanserai. "One of them gave his own land for the mosque without asking for anything in return."

Mosques that come fully equipped for prayer and contain a library now exist in almost all large villages in Osh Province, he said.

'More mosques ... strengthen our faith'

Before the mosque came, locals had a hard time attending services in the neighbouring town, which is situated almost 5km away, said Biymyrza resident Turatbek Kalilov.

"We old people have a hard time getting around -- it's a long walk, and there are few passing cars to pick you up [en route to the mosque]," he told Caravanserai. "We now have our own modern mosque, where besides praying, we can discuss current issues and more deeply understand Koranic suras, hadiths and verses."

It is important to protect youth from destructive movements that infiltrate the internet and brainwash them with mobile apps, he said.

"More mosques will only benefit Muslims and strengthen our faith," he said. "After all, each of us wants peace and goodness, which is what our peaceful religion calls us to."

Clergy who have been attending classes during the government's imam education push of recent years can protect their flocks from so-called "jihad", said Dyykanov in his speech during the mosque opening ceremony.

Amatova stressed the need to keep training and re-training clerics so they stay current.

"if they are unable to clearly explain the Koranic canons and answer worshipers' uncomfortable questions, imams' authority could decrease," she warned. "Muslims would have to find answers in other places."

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