The arrest of a leader from a banned Islamic group in Kyrgyzstan has put a spotlight on a secretive community that tries to live as Muslims did in the seventh century.
Kyrgyz police said on November 14 that they had arrested a man from the group, which is known as Yaqyn Inkar.
The 47-year-old man, whose legal name was not given but is known by the nickname Nurmoldo, was ordered held for two months while he is investigated for inciting “national, racial, religious, or interregional hatred,” police said.
He was arrested in Belovodsk, near Bishkek, on October 20.
Local news reports said he has two wives and 12 children, but little else is known about him.
'Denial Of Everything Except God'
His arrest brought renewed attention on the little-known, mysterious Muslim community, which a court in June declared an extremist organization and banned its activities.
Taking its name from the Arabic words “yakan” and “inkar” -- which translate as “denial of everything except God” -- members of the community say they are expected to live as people did during the life of the Prophet Muhammad, using “only what God sent.”
They say there is no need to work. They even say that their teachings say that those who work are infidels.... They can be dangerous for society."-- Rustam Ybykeev, Islamic official in Karakol
Men are supposed to grow out their beards and often wear Pakistani-style white clothes. Followers do not recognize any state institutions and refuse to register their children’s births or send them to school.
All electronic devices -- including mobile phones and televisions -- are forbidden and members are expected to eschew cars or buses, traveling instead by foot or on horseback.
They also believe that work interferes in their religious rituals and that men are not obligated to provide for their families, leading many of them to not hold jobs because they believe that “God will provide.”
The community also does not use money and its members are not supposed to go to doctors or accept aid from social services.
Modern Dress, Mobile Phones
Despite the stated strictures, however, many members don’t appear to follow many of the tenets of the community, as RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service reporters found during a visit to a community in the northeastern Issyk-Kul region.
Some of the men were wearing modern dress and several carried mobile phones, though they claimed not to use the Internet.
Yaqyn Inkar members said being on video is a sin in Islam and asked that their faces not be filmed during the interview.
One of the believers, Abdurakhim Abdraev, said they were not members of Yaqyn Inkar but rather of the worldwide Islamic movement Tablighi Jamaat.
“In today’s society, many things are going in ways that are not in accordance with Sunni regulations regarding the [Islamic way of life],” he told RFE/RL.
Tablighi Jamaat, which translates as Messenger’s Assembly, is banned in Russia and every other Central Asian country except Kyrgyzstan.
Kadyr Malikov, a religious expert and director of the analytical center Religion, Law, and Politics in the capital, Bishkek, said that Yaqyn Inkar is a breakaway group of Tablighi Jamaat that was started because some members of Tablighi Jamaat did not think the group was as true to original Islamic ideals as it should be.
In 2016, there were estimated to only be a few dozen members of Yaqyn Inkar. Those numbers are believed to have grown into the hundreds, though precise numbers are unknown.
'Dangerous For Society'
Begun around 2012, the Yaqyn Inkar community spread mainly in the northern districts of Tyup and Ak-Suu, as well as in the city of Karakol and other parts of the Issyk-Kul region, according to Malikov.
Some Kyrgyz officials have expressed concern that the movement could spread to southern regions, which is traditionally more observant than the largely secular north.
Mainstream Islamic officials in Kyrgyzstan have been critical of Yaqyn Inkar.
“They say there is no need to work. They even say that their teachings say that those who work are infidels.... They can be dangerous for society,” Rustam Ybykeev, an Islamic official in Karakol, told RFE/RL.
Mufti Maksatbek Toktomushov said the Yaqyn Inkar members “do damage to themselves” and attract people to a form of “Sufism.” He attacked their belief that men do not need to provide for their families because God will do so.
“As a result, in some cases people refuse to support their children and even leave them.... But in real Islam, everybody has obligations,” he said. “You have obligations, your wife does, [and] your children have rights, which their teaching apparently does not agree with.”