An imam is courting controversy in Kyrgyzstan after he blamed skyrocketing meat prices in the Central Asian country's bazaars on women who "cheapen" themselves by showing too much skin.
"Do you know when meat prices go up in your town? It goes up when women's flesh cheapens. Woman's meat becomes cheap when she bares skin, exposes her thighs like a thumb," Sadybakas Doolov told a congregation in the capital, Bishkek, earlier this month.
The award-winning mullah, who had served as the head of an Islamic university, called on elderly men to put an end to "this disgrace" and stop women from wearing skimpy outfits.
The comments by Doolov, 53, provoked a lot of angry replies in the predominantly Muslim country after footage of his sermon was shared on social media. Some accused the imam of insulting and discriminating against women and called for a criminal investigation.
The country's highest Islamic authority, however, is standing by the imam, saying his comments haven't broken any rules.
The state-backed Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan (DUMK) launched a probe into Doolov's controversial speech. The DUMK said its investigation found that Doolov's remarks didn't violate any Islamic laws, didn't insult anyone's honor and dignity, and didn't interfere with politics. The probe examined Doolov's speech according to those three criteria, it said.
The agency has also spoken with the imam, who was awarded the DUMK's prestigious Aikol medal in 2020. According to the DUMK, Doolov's speech was merely misunderstood by many.
The DUMK's probe came after two Kyrgyz activists filed official complaints with the State Committee for National Security and the Prosecutor-General's Office, calling for an investigation.
Doolov says the comments made during a 30-minute sermon were taken out of context and misinterpreted by critics. The unapologetic mullah said he meant for people to examine their own moral values and not to "blame authorities or traders for everything."
"There were some words on why you're talking about the [high] price of meat but your honor is not offended when women walk around with their naked bodies," Doolov explained. The imam said he didn't intend to demean women.
But many Kyrgyz social-media users accused him of misogyny, ignorance, and misrepresenting religion.
"Simply genius! Now, please check on Google the price of meat in some Arab countries [where women are covered head-to-toe] and see if your theory works there, too," one commented.
A Kyrgyz woman reacted with sarcasm, saying she wouldn't have worn short skirts had she known it had such severe consequences. "Women must be behind the economic crisis and bad roads, too," she wrote.
A Kyrgyz man wrote that Doolov's remarks represented extremist ideas and that his interpretation of Islam should be examined by the security services.
Several others voiced concern that religious figures with questionable ideas are teaching Islam to the young generation.
Doolov is active on social media, often sharing videos with his more than 124,000 followers on Instagram and nearly 200,000 subscribers on YouTube.
He reportedly received his religious education at a private madrasah in neighboring Tajikistan in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Doolov also studied philology at the Osh State University in southern Kyrgyzstan.
According to Kyrgyz media reports, Doolov had worked as the head of at least two Islamic schools in Kyrgyzstan. He currently is an imam at a mosque in Bishkek's Sverdlov district.