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Kyrgyzstan: Imam Extends Welcome To Hizb Ut-Tahrir

Kyrgyz Muslims at prayer in Bishkek (file photo) (RFE/RL) Kyrgyz imam Rafiq Qori Kamoluddin is an exception among the Muslim prayer leaders of Central Asia. In a region where many states ban the radical Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, Kamoluddin allows its members to pray at his mosque. He is by most accounts the only imam in Central Asia to be so bold.

KARA-SUU, Kyrgyzstan; May 12, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Hizb ut-Tahrir's outspoken advocacy of the overthrow of secular governments to create an Islamic caliphate has won it few friends among Central Asian governments. The group insists it seeks change through peaceful means.

But thousands of its supporters are jailed in Uzbekistan, and hundreds more are incarcerated in Tajikistan. A small but growing number of Hizb ut-Tahrir followers are imprisoned in Kazakhstan. The charges often stem from alleged plans to overthrow those respective governments.

A Call For Inclusion

Kamoluddin acknowledges that many of the Hizb ut-Tahrir praying at his mosque come from Uzbekistan, whose hard-line government regards them as enemies of the state.

"It is true that at our mosque, compared with other mosques, many Hizb ut-Tahrir members come to pray," Kamoluddin said. "That information is correct. It is also true that in Kyrgyzstan, [Hizb ut-Tahrir] first appeared in Kara-Suu."

Kara-Suu is a divided town that straddles a river on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. It served briefly as a gateway for Uzbeks fleeing the violent crackdown in nearby Andijon one year ago, and has since blossomed into a bustling throughway for cross-border trade.

Kyrgyz imam Rafiq Qori Kamoluddin (RFE/RL)

Kamoluddin says that the bans imposed on Hizb ut-Tahrir in the rest of Central Asia should not exclude its followers from worshipping in Kyrgyzstan -- at his or any other mosque.

"According to democratic principles, we don't have the right to turn them out," Kamoluddin said. "And even in [terms of] religious understanding, we don't have the right to throw them out because even our Prophet never did this. There were people with misguided faiths during the time of the Prophet. He knew them all, knew their names, but he never turned them away. On the contrary, he prayed for them."

Inclusion, But No Recruiting

Kamoluddin is quick to say that he does not support Hizb ut-Tahrir's ideology, and has no interest in joining. But he is sympathetic to their plight as fervent Muslims.

"Firstly, I am not a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir," he said. "I don't read their literature, and don't want to [read it]. There have been offers made to my family -- to my sons and daughters -- from Hizb ut-Tahrir, but I strictly forbid them [from joining]. But I also do not support the view that Hizb ut-Tahrir are terrorists, enemies of the government, or enemies of the people. And to those who say they aren't Muslims -- they are Muslims. They are a particular group, but they want Islam and they serve Islam."

"You don't need to battle Hizb ut-Tahrir with this kind of material provocation," he added. "Instead, you need to gather scholars and religious leaders and start an intellectual discussion. In front of the people, [for instance] on television, [Hizb ut-Tahrir] should have been told, 'Your mistakes are this and this.'"

The imam insists that while he allows Hizb ut-Tahrir members to pray in his mosque, he does not allow them to use their presence as a recruiting opportunity.

"If any Hizb ut-Tahrir member brings even one leaflet and gives it to even one person to read -- that would be propaganda," he said.

As Kamoluddin returns to his demanding schedule of meetings with the faithful, he notes that he has voiced his opinions on allowing Hizb ut-Tahrir to pray to Kyrgyzstan's government and religious leaders. And -- at least for now -- he says they are satisfied with his explanation.

(Elmurad Jusupaliev and Oktambek Karimov of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)

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