Uzbekistan is once again worrying about where some of its citizens are studying Islam and officials in the country and its embassies in Egypt and Turkey are taking measures to ease these concerns.
The Uzbek government has apparently recalled some 1,500 young people studying at religious schools in Egypt in recent months.
The reasons are still vague, but Uzbek authorities are not only working to bring back some of their citizens studying Islam in Egypt and Turkey, they are also tightening control over who leaves the country to study religion abroad.
RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, said a representative from the Uzbek Embassy in Egypt confirmed in a June 9 phone call that the prestigious Al-Azhar University would now only accept an Uzbek student of religion after Uzbekistan's Committee for Religious Affairs of the Cabinet of Ministers had given an official recommendation for that particular student.
The embassy claimed that according to the administration at Al-Azhar, hundreds of students from Uzbekistan had not been attending their courses or taking exams. The Uzbek Embassy representative in Cairo called this an "alarming fact."
RFE/RL spoke with a person connected to Uzbekistan's State Security Service (DXX). Speaking under condition of anonymity, this person said most of the approximately 1,500 Uzbek students who were brought back from Egypt in recent months were from the Ferghana, Andijon, and Namangan provinces in Uzbekistan's section of the Ferghana Valley, one of the most conservative religious regions in Central Asia.
The embassy in Egypt posted a statement on its website expressing concern that "most citizens" were being taught at dubious "establishments and centers" in Cairo. The source close to the DXX said in many cases these students had flown to Dubai on one-week visas and from there traveled to Egypt.
Ozodlik also noted that in Turkey, at least three madrasahs where Uzbek students were studying were recently closed by the Turkish security service.
Additionally, the source connected to the DXX said that in the first five months of 2021, some 1,800 minors had been stopped at Uzbekistan's borders as they attempted to travel to Egypt to study at religious schools.
Ozodlik's sources said these young people and many of the students in Egypt and Turkey were being sent there, but the sources did not say who was sending them abroad for religious education.
Mubashshir Ahmad is the founder of the Zon.uz website. He studied at Al-Azhar in the 1990s. Ahmad called the Uzbek government's actions "interference" in people's constitutional right to education.
Ahmad has helped arrange for Uzbek citizens to attend madrasahs in Egypt and he claimed that about one month ago, the Foreign Ministry declared "hundreds" of Uzbek citizens in Egypt to be on a "wanted list," including some who were teaching at madrasahs.
Ahmad said an acquaintance had recently returned to Uzbekistan from the Middle East and was questioned about religious schools. He said others had also been questioned upon return to their homeland.
This is not the first time Uzbekistan has recalled religious students studying at foreign schools. In 1997, the Uzbek authorities brought back some 2,000 students from Turkey after hearing that Islamic clerics from fundamentalist sects had been trying to recruit them.
Some were studying the works of the late Kurdish Sunni Muslim theologian Said Nursi, and for more than 10 years after this recall there were arrests and prosecutions in Uzbekistan of people for distributing or teaching the well-known Nursi's works.