Prague, 26 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The southern Kyrgyz city of Karasu is situated on the border with Uzbekistan and many of its ethnic Uzbek residents are devout Muslims.
A recent report by Forum 18, a Norwegian-based news agency covering religious issues in the former Soviet Union, discovered that some men in Karasu are unwilling to take their pregnant wives to the local maternity hospital because of a male obstetrician who works there. It says some local residents have appealed to the authorities to remove him.
Sadykjan Kamaluddin, Kyrgyzstan's former mufti and now head of the Center of International Islamic Cooperation in Osh, says the male obstetrician is offensive to many Muslims.
"In general, in accordance with Shari'a, only women can assist in deliveries."
"[Kyrgyzstan] is neither an Islamic republic nor an Islamic state. Nevertheless, more than 80 percent of its population is Muslim. Thank God, we have plenty of female gynecologists and many female doctors. As I suppose, it would be better, if [the authorities] appoint [females as obstetricians] in order to avoid public scandal," Kamaluddin said.
Kamaluddin notes that, according to Islamic Shari'a law, a man may not see a woman other than his wife unclothed. The only exception to this rule, he added, is in situations in which a woman's life is in danger.
Duishon Hajji Abdyldayev, a mullah in Bishkek, agrees: "In general, in accordance with Shari'a, only women can assist in deliveries. There are such women in Islamic states. Since ancient times, only women have been obstetricians [in these countries]. In our case, everything was mixed up by the Soviet system. In schools and universities, girls and boys have been sitting next to each other. This is causing complications in women's pregnancies. Everybody would be ashamed if a [strange] man watches you during delivery."
Igor Rotar is the Central Asian correspondent for Forum 18. He notes that male obstetricians working in other parts of Kyrgyzstan are able to carry out their work.
"It seems to me that this is not a very serious problem because, for the most part, Kyrgyz people are not very religious. This problem can occur only in some special places like Karasu. In Kyrgyzstan, there are Kyrgyz [men] who want to work as obstetricians. The problem is that this man works in the Uzbek region," Rotar said.
Chynara Termechikova is a psychologist for the Bishkek-based Crisis Center for Women. She says that a man working as an obstetrician is not of particular concern, as long as he is a professional.
"I don't think that a male obstetrician will harm a woman. If the male is a professional specialist who knows his profession very well, why can't he assist a woman in delivery? I don't agree with the opinion that a male obstetrician cannot do such a job," Termechikova said.
Koichubek Khalbayev, the controversial obstetrician, was not available for an interview. But his wife, Sabira Khalbayeva, tells RFE/RL, "All female patients are happy with him. Only some of their husbands, who are ethnic Uzbek, are unhappy with his work. However, their wives are happy with my husband's work. They tell him: 'I just don't want my husband to [know].'"
The head of the Karasu town administration, Adam Zakirov, told Forum 18 that there has, indeed, been unease among the local population over Khalbayev's work and pointed out the complexity of the issue.
On the one hand, he said, Khalbayev's sacking would infringe on his rights as a citizen of secular Kyrgyzstan. At the same time, he said, the authorities have to respect the religious convictions of the local Muslim population.
(Tyntchtykbek Tchoroyev, director of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, contributed to this report.)