IslamOnline.net & News Agencies
TURKESTAN — Some 15 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Central Asia is now rediscovering its historic Islamic roots as a center for study and enlightenment despite some autocracies, which only tolerate only a state-approved version of Islam.
“After the Soviet collapse, the ideological vacuum was filled with all kinds of false teachings. It is only now that people are beginning to understand true Islam,” Muzaffar Haji, a scholar in the ancient Silk Road town of Turkestan, told Reuters Friday, June 16.
“Only now people are beginning to see that (Central Asia) is not just a backyard of the Soviet Union, but a region with deep historical roots … But it’s a different question whether political leaders have the same goals.”
A resurgence of Islam and its practices in the dying years of the Soviet Union formed part of a desire to break with communism which had tried to quash religions.
Mosques and religious schools have mushroomed across the region.
Studying Shari`ah and Arabic abroad — mainly in Turkey and Saudi Arabia — became popular among young people.
Imam Esirkep Meiranbek, 25, is one of the youngest religious leaders in Central Asia.
His mosque in the Kazakh town of Kentau was opened only a month ago, sponsored by a member of parliament. A leaflet explaining why extremism is bad is posted on one of the walls.
Meiranbek, wearing an embroidered turban, says the number of pupils at his Islamic school tripled to 90 after the opening.
“We teach them how to be clean, how to eat healthy food, how to do good things. … It’s the first time in the history of our town that we have our own mosque,” he said.
“People come here from far away. It was worth working for…Because this is our own little revival.”
In Soviet days, people walked past the Khoja Ahmed Yasawi mausoleum, a holy Muslim site in the steppe of southern Kazakhstan, and pretended it was not there.
“It was as if there was nothing but empty space. People were afraid to notice it,” Beisekul Aladasugirova, a middle-aged librarian, said as she pointed at the burial site of the 12-century Sufi scholar.
“But now people are making up for that. People come here in thousands, just like in the Middle Ages,” said Aladasugirova, who had traveled about 300 km (190 miles) to visit the site.
Today, the shrine with the blue-tiled facade is at the centre of an Islamic revival rolling across Central Asia.
Bearded men in robes, backpackers and scholars with copies of the Qur’an pray together underneath its green-and-gold dome, the largest of its kind in Central Asia.
But the revival has not been welcomed by the region’s leaders, increasingly autocratic and criticized for human rights abuses, Reuters says.
As in Soviet days, Uzbekistan, for instance, tolerates only a state-approved version of Islam. It has cracked down on all groups operating outside the system as part of its fight against Islamist opposition who, it says, seeks to overthrow President Islam Karimov.
Witnesses estimate hundreds of unarmed people were killed when government troops opened fire on a large crowd. The government says 187 people were killed.
The West has criticized Uzbekistan for using the uprising as an excuse to step up its campaign against dissent.
Many Uzbeks even fear they will be labeled extremists if they speak publicly about Islam. Many Muslims who have breached the tight restrictions imposed by the state have ended up in jail.
In Turkmenistan, President Saparmurat Niyazov tightly controls all aspects of life and tolerates no dissent.
His book “Rukhnama” — a collection of his thoughts and quotes — is kept alongside the Qur’an in state mosques.
Tajikistan, where Islamists and President Imomali Rakhmonov’s Moscow-backed government fought a civil war in the 1990s, is the only Central Asian state with a registered Islamic opposition group.