Accessibility links

Central Asia Report: August 11, 2005


11 August 2005, Volume 5, Number 30

Special Issue: Jadidism and Islam in Central Asia

WEEK AT A GLANCE (1-7 August 2005). For a Just Kazakhstan obtained official registration from the authorities in what the opposition bloc's leadership described as a "common victory of democratic forces." Bloc leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbai is the presumptive unified opposition candidate in the upcoming presidential election, which will be held in December 2005 or December 2006. Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik announced that Kazakhstan will join the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline project in October. The eventual BTC hookup will link the Kazakh port of Aktau with Baku, initially carrying 7.5 million tons of oil a year. The project is slated to come on line in 2008, when Kazakhstan's Kashagan oil field begins production. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan banned poultry imports from Kazakhstan in the wake of a reported bird-flu outbreak in Pavlodar Province, while the European Commission asked member states to approve a ban on poultry imports from Kazakhstan by 12 August.

The fate of 15 Uzbek detainees in Kyrgyzstan who fled Uzbekistan after violence in Andijon on 12-13 May remained unclear, as Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov said that Kyrgyzstan would surrender them to a third country willing to grant them refugee status. Meanwhile, Kyrgyz authorities refused to grant four of the men asylum-seeker status because they were allegedly serving sentences in Uzbekistan for drug-related crimes. Protestors who had blocked a key road to the Kumtor gold mine since 27 July lifted their blockade when the government agreed to form a commission to examine their claims that they deserve compensation for a 1998 cyanide spill at the mine, owned by Canada's Centerra Gold.

In Tajikistan, the trial of Democratic Party head Mahmadruzi Iskandarov on corruption and terrorism charges began. He pleaded innocent, and on 3 August the trial was adjourned until 8 August.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov awarded Turkmen citizenship to over 13,000 people, mostly ethnic Turkmen who fled Tajikistan during that country's 1992-97 civil war.

In Uzbekistan, two local employees of the U.S.-based media organization Internews were found guilty of illegally producing video and print materials, although they received no penalties under a recent amnesty. Internews representatives described the case as part of a politically motivated crackdown against NGOs and vowed an appeal. President Islam Karimov signed a decree abolishing the death penalty as of 1 January 2008. Rights groups welcomed the move, but called for the immediate imposition of a moratorium on capital punishment as well.

CENTRAL ASIA: JADIDISM -- OLD TRADITION OF RENEWAL. "Jadid" is the Arabic word for "new," but Jadidism was a drive for cultural and social renewal among Muslims in the Russian Empire in the early 20th century. Historians have taken the term "Jadidism" from usul-i jadid, meaning a "new method" of teaching in schools, yet Jadidism's significance extended far beyond education. In the part of today's Central Asia that was known administratively as Turkestan under the Russian tsars, Jadidism briefly became one of the most remarkable currents of thought in a wide-ranging debate over culture and society among the region's Muslims.

However, Jadidism did not survive the upheavals ushered in by the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, and most of the Jadids, as the movement's partisans were known, perished in Stalin's purges. But recent scholarship shows that the issues Jadidism raised remain vitally important in today's Central Asia.

Jadidism was not a movement in the strict sense, nor was it a purely Central Asian phenomenon. In fact, the "new method" of teaching that gave Jadidism its name is more closely associated with Tatars in Crimea and along the Volga, and especially with the Crimean Tatar Ismail Bey Gasprinskii (1851-1914), who began publishing the influential newspaper "Terjuman" in 1883. But one of the most detailed and thoughtful studies of Jadidism focuses specifically on the phenomenon in Turkestan, or what would today be Uzbekistan and the adjoining parts of the Ferghana Valley. The book, which appeared in 1998, is called "The Politics Of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism In Central Asia," and its author, Adeeb Khalid, currently chairs the history department at Carleton College in the United States.

At the heart of the Jadid project was a new method of teaching to replace the existing practice in maktabs, as primary schools in Central Asia were known in the late 19th century. At that time, the maktab existed to transmit knowledge and proper behavior, but not to inculcate understanding. Students memorized passages of the Koran in Arabic, but did not learn Arabic and could not understand what they were reciting. Persian and Turkic texts in the Arabic script functioned as mnemonic aids for students who could "read" passages they had already memorized, but were not functionally literate, for they could not read unfamiliar texts even in languages they knew from birth.

The Jadids sought to change this, teaching the alphabet phonetically and producing students who were functionally literate. This was the essence of the "new method," and the Jadids set up new-method schools to put it into practice and educate a new generation.

Although many of the Jadids were themselves products of the traditional maktab, they loathed it, portraying it in their polemical writings as an incubator of ignorance and enemy of enlightenment. Unsurprisingly, later writers, virtually all of them educated in an environment far closer to an ideal "new-method" school than a late-19th-century Central Asian maktab, have often mirrored the Jadids' views on this issue.

But Khalid shows that there was more to the conflict than this simple dichotomy between qadim and jadid, old and new. The struggle between the Jadids and proponents of the traditional way was in fact a contest between two different understandings of knowledge and its transmission. The maktab emerged in a world of written, not printed, texts. "The scarcity of the written word in the scribal age endowed it with a sacral aura," Khalid writes. "Writing itself was the object of reverence and the mnemonic, ritual, and devotional uses of the written word overshadowed its more mundane documentary functions." But for the Jadids, who belonged to the age of the printing press and who were great advocates of newspapers, the meaning of the written word was the proper object of reverence, not writing itself.

The struggle went deeper still. The Jadids' focus on functional literacy and print was a direct challenge to the authority of Central Asia's entrenched cultural elites. "Print allowed the Jadids to challenge the monopoly of the traditionally learned over authoritative discourse," Khalid argues. "In their writings, the Jadids tended to address a public composed of all those who could read. The use of print allowed the Jadids to go beyond the concerns of intellectual pedigree and patronage that provided the framework for literary production in the manuscript age. The Jadid project involved nothing less than the redefinition of the social order...." When a Jadid "claimed that newspapers were spiritual leaders of society...he was directly challenging the authority of the traditional cultural elite," according to Khalid.

If the new-method school was the Jadids' preferred means of fomenting change, and if their challenge to an existing elite ensured that they faced an uphill battle, progress was their motivating passion. In fact, the term the Jadids preferred for themselves was "taraqqiparvarlar" -- "lovers of progress," or "progressives." The trilingual term points to the rich and varied cultural backdrop to Jadidism, for "taraqqi" is an Arabic word meaning "elevation" or "progress"; "parvar" a Persian suffix derived from the word for "nourish"; and "-lar" the Turkic plural ending. And these progressive "taraqqiparvarlar" were all Muslims who read the Koran in Arabic and were equally at home in Persian and Turkic, the latter the precursor of what is today literary Uzbek, although it would not be identified as such until after 1917.

Progress for the Jadids took the form of advancement through knowledge. "The Jadids' cult of knowledge...placed them firmly in the mainstream of the enlightenment project," Khalid writes. For the Jadids, Europe was the embodiment of progress. Many of the Jadids visited Europe, and they often presented in their writings a stark contrast between advanced Europe and backward Central Asia. Khalid quotes Mirza Siraj Rahim, the son of a Bukharan merchant, who described a 1902 trip to Europe in terms that, while clearly idealized, movingly evoke the emotions that fired the Jadids in their labors:

"I did not see in Europe a single person whose clothes were old or torn, not one building in ruins, nor a street that was unpaved.... But in our country, our poor merchants and shopkeepers, in their cells and shops dark with dust and [surrounded by] crowds of beggars, cannot find a minute to breathe properly.... Pity on us, pity on us. All the time I toured Paris, [my] beloved homeland was constantly in my mind, and all the time tears flowed from my eyes...."

But for all their belief in progress as embodied by modern Europe, the Jadids never wavered in their commitment to seeing themselves and their audience as Muslims. Khalid writes:

"The Jadids were part of a cosmopolitan community of Muslims knit together by readership of common texts and by travel. They lived in the last generation when Muslim intellectuals in different countries could communicate with each other without the use of European languages. Central Asian Jadidism was located squarely in the realm of Muslim modernism. It was Muslim because its rhetorical structures were rooted in the Muslim tradition of Central Asia and because the Jadids derived ultimate authority for their arguments in Islam. The Jadids never disowned Islam in the way that many Young Turks had done well before the end of the 19th century. Rather, modernity was fully congruent with the 'true' essence of Islam, and only an Islam purified of all accretions of the ages could ensure the well-being of Muslims."

The Jadids' initial understanding of Muslim identity encompassed the dizzying diversity of Muslims living in and around Central Asia. In 1912, Munawwar Qari wrote: "Arab, Turk, Fars, Ozbek, Noghay, Tatar, Bashqurd, Persiyan [sic], Cherkes, Lezgin, Tekke, Turkman, Afghan, Qazaq, Qirghiz, Qipchaq, Tungan, Taranchi, Hanafi, Shafi'i, Maliki, Hanbali, Ja'fari. All of them believe in the existence and unity of God and the prophecy of Muhammad, on whom be peace."

Gradually, however, the Turkic element grew stronger. By 1917, the Jadids were penning approving appeals to the legacy of such Turkic heroes as Chinggis, Temur, and Ulugh-bek. The poet Abdurauf Fitrat, who would go on to become one of the pioneers of Uzbek literature before he was shot in Stalin's purges and written out of Soviet history, switched in 1917 from writing in Persian to writing in Turkic.

Although the ideas the Jadids put forward subverted the dichotomy between colonizer and colonized and thus did not fit in neatly with the Russian colonial project, the Jadids were not opponents of Russian colonial rule. Khalid argues that the Jadids did not fight to break free from the empire, but rather sought "to establish a Central Asian Muslim presence in mainstream Russian life." Nevertheless, the Russian colonial administration treated them with suspicion, viewing Jadidism "primarily as a political phenomenon," even though the Jadids lacked an institutional framework to articulate political interests, faced substantial opposition within the Muslim community, and remained in essence a loose-knit cultural movement.

The tsarist government's tendency to read political significance into cultural phenomena and see in them a threat to its power proved to be one prerevolutionary tradition the Bolsheviks were only too eager to adopt and put to their own uses. Though the Jadids seized on the chaos of the revolutionary period to try to advance their ideas, they enjoyed only limited success. And while many Jadids rose to prominence in the 1920s, a cruel fate awaited them under Stalin.

Khalid brings the tale to its sad conclusion: "Munawwar Qari, Cholpan, Qadiri, Haji Muin, and Ubaydullah Khojaev all disappeared in the Gulag in the 1930s. By 1938, when Fitrat was executed and Fayzullah Khojaev, most famously of them all, mounted the podium at the Great Purge Trial in Moscow as part of the 'anti-Soviet bloc of rightists and Trotskyites' to face the fatal charges of counterrevolution and anti-Soviet activity, the Jadid generation had been obliterated. They were replaced by a new generation (the so-called Class of '38), whose education and worldview had been shaped entirely within the Soviet context."

Central Asia today is a vastly different place than the colonial Turkestan the Jadids sought to refashion into a community of enlightened Muslims. Many of the particular concerns that occupied such a prominent place in Jadid writings, like the battle between old-method and new-method schools, are now of purely historical interest. The rapturous view of Europe as an exemplar of progress rings quaint. Yet answers to the larger questions the Jadids raised are still being sought across Central Asia: What, for example, is the best way for Central Asia's nations to improve the well-being of their diverse peoples while remaining faithful to their rich and varied cultural and religious traditions? Should not a strong, forward-thinking sense of Muslim identity serve as the inspiration for enlightened progress?

Such questions may be in the Jadid tradition, but they are not the real lesson of Jadidism for Central Asia today. In Uzbekistan, for example, where the Jadids are honored as martyrs of Soviet tyranny, officialdom espouses a discourse of Uzbek nationalism rooted in a supposedly centuries-old Timurid legacy, and the state never tires of stressing that Uzbekistan's "traditional" Islam -- which in the official interpretation exists seemingly outside of history -- must be defended at all costs from the perils of "new" and "imported" extremism.

As Khalid's admirably researched examination of Jadidism shows, these categories and concepts are neither as ancient nor as traditional as today's officials might wish us to believe. In demonstrating that the nation and the faith were not always what they now seem to be -- that they were, in fact, the subject of impassioned debate in the past -- the legacy of Jadidism need not weaken either. Instead, it can strengthen both by opening them up once again to debate and, as the Jadids would surely insist, to progress. (Daniel Kimmage)

CENTRAL ASIA: REGION RETURNS TO MUSLIM ROOTS (PART 1) Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Central Asian republics have seen a revival of Islam. The process kicked off quickly as Islam has always had deep roots in the region and missionaries and funds arrived from other Muslim countries to help rebuild schools and mosques. Nowadays, most Central Asians consider themselves Muslims. Still, many observers say that there are differences between the identity and religious practices of Muslims in Central Asia and those in other parts of the Islamic world. In this four-part series on Islam in Central Asia, RFE/RL looked at how Muslims in the region view themselves.

Most Central Asians, when asked this question, give one answer: "Al-hamdulillah, I am." The use of the Arabic phrase for "praise be to Allah" emphasizes the strength of their faith.

The reply comes as no surprise because most of the peoples of Central Asia have historically been Muslim. According to regional surveys, some 95 percent of the members of those historically Muslim populations consider themselves Muslim today.

"I have no special knowledge of Islam, but Al-hamdulillah, I am a Muslim," said one man in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe. "Islam teaches us to avoid bad behavior, to be honest, not to be drunk, respect human beings, to have an open mind and a soft heart. If we do not follow these rules, we are not followers of his excellency Prophet Muhammad."

But if Central Asians share much with Muslims elsewhere in the world, their identity is also uniquely shaped by their own cultural and political history.

As for Muslims everywhere, the faith in Central Asians rests on the five pillars of Islam. Those are belief in the creed of "La ilaha illallah. Muhammadun Rasul Allah" (There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet), the fulfillment of Namaz (prayer, five times daily at prescribed times), Zakat (charitable giving), Ramadan (the month of fasting) and, for those who can afford it, the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca).

Yet Islam in Central Asia, which dates to the 8th century, has traditionally had a moderate cast compared to practices in Saudi Arabia or Iran, for example.

That moderation is reflected in its accommodation of originally nomadic practices like the fermentation of mare's milk into mildly intoxicating 'Qymyz' and today includes a less strict attitude toward alcohol overall than in more conservative Muslim societies.

Similarly, Islam in Central Asia accommodated the needs of nomadic Kazakh and Kyrgyz women to ride horses and work equally with men free of the "hijab" (Islamic dress) adopted by more sedentary peoples, like the Uzbeks and Tajiks.

Mona Siddiqui, head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, said there are other signs of moderation, too.

She noted that historically, the most widespread form of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence in the region has been the Hanafi madhab. She said that among the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence, it is the one most open to new ideas.

"Hanafi madhab is one of the four madhab from the Sunni schools of law," Siddiqui said. "They come to us as Shafii, Hanbali, Maliki, and Hanafi. Hanafi is widespread amongst Asia, but also amongst Southeast Asia and also Turkey near to Europe. General discourse when we compare different madhabs seems to be that in terms of actual jurisprudence the Hanafi scholars seem to be far more discursive and willing to debate the issues of piety, devotion, and worship in contrast to some of the other schools."

But if Central Asia has long had a special Muslim identity, it also has been shaped by other powerful and sometimes competing influences -- including long domination by Russia.

The colonization of the region by Czarist Russia beginning in the 18th century ultimately led to the creation of the officially atheist Central Asian republics of the Soviet Union.

Until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, communist authorities discouraged the practice of all religions, turned many places of worship into public buildings, and stressed secular values in place of spiritual ones.

The effects in Central Asia can be seen today. As Islam has revived in the region, some have embraced it again with fervor akin to that of new converts.

Elvira, a 26-year-old woman from the Kazakh city of Almaty, wears hijab whenever she leaves her house. She works as a cook in a restaurant.

"I consider Islam as the purest religion in the world," Elvira said. "That is why I embraced Islam. Inshalla (God willing), it is been two years, since I started doing namaz. After I became a devout Muslim, my thoughts about life changed, they are very different from what they used to be. During my Jahiliyyah (ignorance referring to the pre-Islamic state), I used to drink alcohol, my attitude toward smoking was different as well. Now I consider all these things as wrong."

But other young people see no need to give up a secular lifestyle. "We are young, of course we go to discos, we have fun, we date girls," said one young Uzbek man. "We are still young, we'll have enough time for fasting and praying when we are old."

To some observers, that sort of dichotomy suggests a region that still torn between its Islamic and Soviet pasts.

Magda Makhloof, professor of Turkish and Persian Studies at Ain Shams University in Cairo, said that Central Asians' knowledge of Islam was harmed by Soviet rule.

"There is no doubt that the people of this region connected to Islam by their historical roots and their big contributions to Islamic culture and their thoughts are well-known," Makhloof said. "However, the region was left under communist rule for a century, or about three-fourths of a century. And there is no doubt that this period affected the true knowledge of Islamic religion in the region. At present, there are Islamic sentiments and feelings, but they lack true knowledge."

As Central Asians build new mosques --sometimes with the help of Islamic missionaries from more conservative Muslim countries -- the revival of Islam does not always sit comfortably with the region's once communist, now nationalist, governments.

Government officials, used to controlling religion in the past, regard it as a force for social change that must be regulated to assure it does not pose a danger to their own authority.

In Uzbekistan, the government has cracked down hard on any groups that operate outside the state-approved religious establishment. Police have arrested thousands of members of such groups as militants and closed down their meeting places.

The effect has been to make many Uzbek Muslims wary of being branded extremists if they speak too publicly about their faith.

This young woman in Tashkent was braver than most in speaking about Islam: "These days, many are afraid to speak of Islam because of what's going on with Wahhabism, for example. There are those who use Islam as a mask to cover terrorism. Therefore it's scary to speak of Islam."

Wahhabism is a fundamentalist Islamic movement that arose in Saudi Arabia in the 18th century and has become the official form of Islam in that country. The term "Wahhabi" is often used by post-Soviet governments to denote militant Islamic groups ready to use force to achieve political-religious goals. (Gulnoza Saidazimova, with contributions from RFE/RL's Uzbek, Tajik, Kazakh, and Afghan services)

CENTRAL ASIA: REGIONAL LEADERS TRY TO CONTROL ISLAM (PART 2) In most Central Asian states, governments place controls on the practice of Islam by requiring that mosques and other institutions operate only with permission from state-approved religious authorities. The governments say the controls are necessary to fight militant Islamic groups that vow to overthrow the region's presidents as dictators. It is unclear just what the militant groups would bring in the current governments' places, but the presidents are taking no chances. Nowhere is that more evident than in Turkmenistan, where the president has sought to portray himself as a messenger of Allah as well as the leader-for-life of his country. RFE/RL correspondent Allamurad Rakhimov reported in this second part of our four-part series on Islam in Central Asia.

Speaking of his book "Rukhnama," (Book of the Soul), Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov said: "It ['Rukhnama'] appeared by a miracle of Allah. It came from above through me and I just inscribed it on paper. Therefore, the mysterious marvel of it will be great for the Turkmen nation."

The book, whose first volume was published in 2001 and the second in 2004, is a collection of the president's thoughts on politics, nationalism, religion, culture, and the destiny of his people.

Today, quotations from Niyazov's book are inscribed alongside verses from the Koran in the largest mosque in Turkmenistan -- a mosque the president built in his own native village of Kipchak. And the government has made it obligatory to study the "Rukhnama" in kindergartens, universities, and government offices.

Analysts say Niyazov's thoughts have become part of the state-controlled religious life of the country. "Imams in Turkmenistan are forced to quote from the 'Rukhnama' and hold 'Rukhnama' classes in the mosques and have copies of the 'Rukhnama' on the shelf in the mosque, on the same shelf with the Koran," said Felix Corley, chief editor of the Norway-based news agency Forum-18, which reports on religious freedom worldwide.

Corley said religious leaders risk imprisonment if they try to resist the influence of Niyazov -- known as Turkmenbashi (leader of the Turkmen) -- on spiritual life. The country's former chief cleric, Nasrullah Ibn Ibadullah, reportedly refused to declare Turkmenbashi a "true messenger of God." As a result, he was sacked and sentenced last year to 22 years in prison on charges of treason.

Niyazov's efforts to co-opt Islam by elevating himself to the level of a spiritual -- as well as political -- leader is an extreme example of how some Central Asian governments battle for the hearts and minds of believers. But in all five Central Asian countries, the governments require mosques and madrasahs (religious schools) to register with the state as a condition for operation.

And throughout the region, governmental bodies with names like the Council for Religious Affairs control the selection, promotion, and dismissal of Muslim clergy -- from the mufti, who is the top religious official in the country, to the heads of mosques.

The efforts appear to reflect a conviction that Islam is too potent a social and political, as well as religious, force in Central Asia to leave it beyond the state's control.

Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov regularly accuses militant Islamic groups of seeking to use religion to recruit members to overthrow his regime. He has cracked down on groups that do not register with the government by closing their meeting places and arresting thousands of their supporters. He also regularly links such groups to "international terrorism," branding them a danger to society.

"The danger of international terrorism is global. Today, none of the cities or villages of the world can be guaranteed [free] from the blows of international terrorism and we control the situation very carefully in Uzbekistan," Karimov told a cabinet meeting in December.

Tashkent has charged Islamic militants with inciting the unrest in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon on 13 May. But human rights groups say that in Andijon at least 500 people, mostly unarmed civilians, were killed in firing from government troops.

Radical groups in Central Asia such as Hizb ut-Tahrir say they want to remove the region's leaders as dictators and establish an Islamic state in their place.

Turkmen sociologist Farkhad Iliassov of the Moscow-based analytical center Vlast says Islam is growing into a potent political force in Central Asia because democratic alternatives for change are suppressed. "In the absence of democratic alternatives [in Central Asian countries] with mostly liquidated socialistic values, the only remaining hope and ideology for the poor, destitute, and oppressed is Islam," he told RFE/RL. "[People] can't expect help from, or appeal to, any other alternative ideology. Particularly that is the case in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan."

Among the five Central Asian countries, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan place the tightest restrictions on political activity, forbidding any opposition parties not composed of sworn loyalists of the president.

Kazakhstan has allowed opposition parties to register, and this week permitted the country's largest opposition alliance to nominate its candidate for the next presidential election, possibly to be held in December.

Tajikistan is the only country with a registered Islamic opposition party. That party was registered after a 1997 peace agreement between the government and the then armed Islamic opposition that ended the 1992-97 civil war.

And in Kyrgyzstan, opposition parties led street revolts earlier this year that overthrew the regime. Kyrgyzstan is now in the process of trying to establish a working multiparty system following a presidential election on 10 July. (Allamurad Rakhimov)

CENTRAL ASIA: RADICAL ISLAMISTS CHALLENGE GOVERNMENTS' EFFORTS AT CONTROL (PART 3) Across Central Asia, governments have coped with the Islamic revival by asserting their control over the religious establishment and banning groups that refuse to cooperate. The governments are motivated by fears that uncontrolled Islam could be a potent force for political opposition. But despite these government efforts, homegrown and foreign-inspired militant Islamic groups have arisen to challenge the status quo. The most widespread is Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that calls for the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate to replace the region's existing governments. The group says it advocates only peaceful change but the governments accuse it of promoting violent revolution. RFE/RL correspondent Normahmad Kholov reported in this third part of our four-part series on Islam in Central Asia.

People in Central Asia who sympathize with the banned Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir will not give their names when they talk to reporters. But they will talk about their hopes for the future.

Like this woman in Tajikistan: "As for as I know, Hizb ut-Tahrir would like to convey the message of truth to the people by peaceful, bloodless, and nonviolent means and with the help of governments. The reality is this that the society is corrupt and only a peaceful Islamic government can solve this problem."

The promise to establish Islamic government in all traditionally Muslim lands is central to the Hizb ut-Tahrir's platform.

Imran Waheed, spokesman for Hizb ut-Tahrir's office in exile in London, stated the group's goal in a recent interview: "Hizb ut-Tahrir has a very clear objective, which is re establishment of the Islamic Caliphate and it is working toward that."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently banned the Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain.

The group's supporters use the term "Islamic Caliphate" to refer to an ideal system of government they believe existed during the early years of Islam. At the time, both religious and temporal authority were in the hands of the Prophet Muhammad or his immediate successors.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is believed to have first taken root in the Uzbek-controlled part of the Ferghana Valley shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It soon spread to adjacent parts of the valley within Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, making it Central Asia's single-most-widespread Islamic political movement. It has also spread to Kazakhstan and parts of Russia.

Today, Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned by the Uzbek, Tajik, Kyrgyz, and Kazakh governments, which claim it seeks to overthrow them by force.

Nabi Rahimov, the deputy prosecutor in Tajikistan's Sughd region, described the organization's activities this way: "What are the intentions of this criminal union? The documents and papers that we have confiscated from its members shows that their aim is to encourage ethnic, religious, and national animosity and regionalism. In some documents you can see that they are working in contrary to the 307th clause of the constitution. In other words, they are trying to topple the constitutional government by force and violent means."

The Uzbek government, which continues to be Hizb ut-Tahrir's main target of criticism, accuses the group of involvement in a series of bombings and other unrest in Tashkent and other cities in recent years that has killed scores of people.

Tashkent also accuses Hizb ut-Tahrir of links to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and to the armed Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Hizb ut-Tahrir denies this.

Between 1999 and 2001, using Tajikistan's remote mountainous areas as its base, the IMU carried out kidnappings, assassinations, and a series of armed raids deep into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. It stated objective is to establish an Islamic state in Uzbekistan.

The IMU later relocated its base to Afghanistan and it is believed to have largely been destroyed in the U.S.-led operation to topple Afghanistan's Taliban regime in late 2001.

Regional governments also accuse both Hizb ut-Tahrir and the IMU of getting money and inspiration from extremist Islamist groups elsewhere in the Muslim world.

However, Hizb ut-Tahrir denies it advocates anything but peaceful change and says it is homegrown. It accuses the region's governments, in turn, of using charges of terrorism to suppress all opposition movements they cannot control.

Analysts say Hizb ut-Tahrir has never been proven to have links to violent acts but they do not rule out that the group could be willing to use violence to achieve an Islamic revolution. But Michael Hall, the Bishkek-based head of the International Crisis Group's Central Asia Project, says government action against the group is often so harsh that it risks turning members violent if they are not already so.

"Insulting family members of Hizb ut-Tahrir followers is one of the factors that could increase anger among party members and could force them to turn to violence," Hall told RFE/RL.

Crackdowns in Uzbekistan, where the group appears to have the most members, include mass arrests of suspected sympathizers and lengthy detentions while awaiting trial. According to independent Uzbek estimates, there may be as many as 7,000 alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members in Uzbek prisons.

Human rights groups say suspected militants are subjected to torture during interrogation and called on the government to investigate complaints.

But as regional governments try to crack down on groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, there is no sign yet that the movements are disappearing. One member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, who introduced himself as Abulkhair, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that underground cells of the party are active in different parts of that country and government pressure is not discouraging recruitment efforts.

"They are active in Kulab, they are active in Khatlon and Hisar also. We hope and pray to god that their ranks will grow more. Despite detentions, torture, and oppression, God willing, their number will increase day by day," Abulkhair said.

Experts say that Hizb ut-Tahrir in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan is most active among Uzbek minorities in these countries, raising the danger that crackdowns against them will have ethnic overtones.

Some analysts caution that the governments efforts to control political Islam -- including by arresting members of Islamic organizations that refuse to join the state-approved religious establishment -- could eventually backfire. Regional security expert Ahmad Rashid, the author of "Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia," says lack of political freedoms drive people to join radical groups.

"The enormous repression of the [Central Asian] regimes and the lack of any kind of political expression naturally forces politically oriented people to go underground and to become radicalized, and then join these Islamist groups," Rashid told RFE/RL. (Normahmad Kholov)

CENTRAL ASIA: MADRASAHS LEAD RELIGIOUS TEACHING REVIVAL (PART 4) In Central Asia, as in much of the Muslim world, religious education is carried out in institutions known as madrasahs. Those institutions can be on a university-size scale, as in some of the ancient but still functioning madrasahs in Bukhara, or in premises as small as a village schoolroom. Today, after decades of decline under communism or due to war in Afghanistan, madrasahs throughout the region are reviving as a central part of Muslim life. RFE/RL correspondent Sultan Sarwar reported in this last part of our four-part series on Islam in Central Asia.

In a madrasah in Ghazni, southeastern Afghanistan, a turbaned and bearded teacher sits on the floor of a bare classroom, surrounded by a half-circle of young men aged 16 to 21.

The teacher is Movlavi Haji Mohammad, a local cleric who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. At this moment, he is teaching a class in the "Hadith," that is the collection of sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad. The Hadith and the Koran make up the Sunna, the base of Islamic law.

Movlavi Mohammad chooses a boy to read a passage in Arabic and corrects his mistakes. Then the teacher reads the text in Pashto:

"Rafi bin Khudaig narrates that when Prophet Mohammed came to Medina, he found people there artificially inseminating date palms, and you know Medina was a place of date palms, gardens, and wide agriculture.

"While referring to the artificial insemination, the Prophet -- Peace Be Upon Him -- asked the people, 'why are you doing that?'

"'This has been our custom for a long time,' the people answered.

"'It may be better if you leave them without artificially inseminating them,' Prophet Muhammad said."

The teacher interprets the passage's meaning. He says the Prophet was only giving a personal opinion to the farmers and never claimed people should follow his guidance on nonspiritual questions. That left the final decision for the farmers to make based on their own best judgment.

The scene in Movlavi Mohammad's classroom repeats across Central Asia, where madrasahs provide religious education to thousands of students. The students range from early school-age to university-age, and some will go on to become clerics and religious scholars in their own turn.

The scene is also timeless, reproducing many of the details seen in Persian miniatures dating to the Middle Ages. One such miniature shows a classroom inside a mosque complex. There is a small garden with a pool of water. The students and teachers study together and prepare together for prayer.

Historians say the madrasah system was once widely established in the region from Naishapur in Khorasan, to Balkh and Bukhara in Central Asia. Today it remains widespread in Afghanistan and is progressively returning to many of the Central Asian states, with the exception of Turkmenistan. There the government has actively discouraged madrasahs as part of its efforts to control Islam.

Madrasah studies traditionally focus on religious law, the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, classic logic, literature, and interpretation of the Koran. Some also teach mathematics and the discoveries of the classic Muslim astronomers.

In recent years, some Central Asian states have also encouraged madrasahs to broaden their curriculum to include studies of modern sciences and to offer some educational opportunities for girls.

Dr. Abdul Hakim Juzjani, professor of law at Tashkent Islamic University, says the madrasah system produced some of the greatest scholars of Islam's golden age of science (the 8th to 16th centuries on the Western calendar).

"Very famous scholars of theological law, history, grammar, literature, Arabic language and practical science, like Abu Raihan Beruni, Avicenna, Abusahl Masihi, and hundreds others belong to the region. They were very famous in the Islamic world, and some of them are well-known by international standards -- like Abu Musa al-Khwarazmi, the founder of algebra," Juzjani says.

But if the madrasahs once fostered scientific as well as religious studies, over time they gradually became more exclusively focused on theology.

Dr Abdul Salaam Azimi, a former president of Kabul University, explains to RFE/RL: "The interpretation which says that the practical sciences, like chemistry, physics, and algebra, do not belong in religious teachings prevailed. The scholars believed that they were not obliged to study [the practical sciences] any more, and that the only [necessary] knowledge is religious knowledge."

He adds that some scholars event went to the extreme of arguing that if God cures all diseases, there is no need for medicine.

Other factors � including foreign invasion and domination -- also contributed to the madrasahs' decline as centers of broad learning. Professor Juzjani says they included civil wars and the Mongol invasion of Central Asia. A renaissance in the 14th to 16th centuries was followed by Russian colonization of much of Central Asia and, finally, the marginalization of religious institutions under communism.

"National and religious institutions sustained big blows and losses during the expeditions of Russia into the region and following the creation of the Bolshevik state," Juzjani says. "Large [collections chronicling] achievements in the arts and science were looted, books were closely monitored, the people who had books with red or yellow pages [religious books] used to be taken to court, or sent to exile in Siberia or, if the book was about religious doctrine the owner used to face even harder punishments."

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, both governments in the region and Da'wah groups (private Islamic charitable organizations) elsewhere in the Muslim world provided money for restoring and reopening madrasahs. That created a competition for influence in which regional governments said foreign groups were seeking to spread fundamentalist Islam to the region. Most governments have since taken over, or put tight restrictions on, all madrasahs on their territory.

The tight restrictions reflect some governments' view that madrasahs can become centers of extremism should their directors hold radical views. In Uzbekistan, some directors have been removed from their posts. Madrasahs have also been barred from receiving funding from states like Saudi Arabia, which are perceived as promoting a fundamentalist form of Islam potentially threatening to the status quo.

In Uzbekistan, Tashkent limits religious school graduates to competing for positions as imams in state-controlled mosques. Their studies are not considered adequate to enter the state's civil bureaucracy, in contrast to graduates of the secular state education system's Islamic University of Tashkent.

By contrast, in Afghanistan some madrasahs are not controlled by the government and are funded by local charities. Their graduates can become imams, judges in the national legal system, which is based on Shari'a law, or teachers in religious schools. (Sultan Sarwar, with contributions from RFE/RL's Afghan Service stringer Jawad Omiad)

XS
SM
MD
LG