Airport passengers in the eastern Uzbek city of Namangan who are flying to Russia are being force-fed Islamic sermons about loyalty, the dangers of religious extremism -- and Russian women.
The main aim of Uzbekistan's campaign of "airport preaching imams" appears to be to keep people from joining terrorist or extremist groups.
A video on Uzbek social media on July 15 shows an imam addressing passengers at a departure gate before they board a Russia-bound plane.
Accompanied by a uniformed airport worker, the imam, Abduvosit, warns the passengers against terrorist organizations that he describes as “one of the greatest threats of our time.”
He tells the crowd to be “vigilant against terrorist groups who act in the guise of” Islam and try to brainwash and recruit people, especially those looking for religious knowledge online.
“It has happened especially among [migrant workers] in Russia,” Abduvosit says.
“If you need information about Islam or want to expand your religious knowledge, you can easily find such information on the Uzbek [state-approved] websites, such as muslim.uz, islom.uz, or our own ravza.uz,” the imam explained.
Muslim.uz is the official website of the state-backed Islamic Affairs Department, while ravza.uz is run by the agency’s regional office in Namangan.
Contacted by RFE/RL, an official at Namangan International Airport confirmed that regular sermons are being carried out as part of a state anti-extremism campaign.
“These sermons are designed by the Committee on Religious Affairs for passengers traveling to Russia for work,” the official told RFE/RL on July 15 on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.
“Since it’s impossible to gather all the passengers on the street, the sermons are conducted in the departure gate after check-in,” he said.
The official said the sermons are being offered mainly for passengers traveling to Russia, a major destination for millions of migrant workers from Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries.
Sermons take place before each flight from Namangan to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, and other Russian cities, the airport official told RFE/RL.
At least 2 million migrants from Uzbekistan -- Central Asia's most populous country with some 32 million people -- work at construction sites, factories, or in the agriculture sector in Russia.
There have also been hundreds of Uzbek migrants who have joined the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria or Iraq after being recruited and radicalized in Russia.
Authorities in tightly controlled Uzbekistan haven’t given official statistics on how many Uzbek citizens joined IS when it was fighting to establish a caliphate in the Middle East from 2014 until early this year, when it lost the last piece of territory it had held.
Uzbekistan has, in the past, sent imams and other Islamic figures to Russia to conduct meetings with Uzbek migrants to warn them against extremist and terrorist groups they say are preying on vulnerable people.
It is not known if preaching by imams is going on at other airports in Uzbekistan.
Officials at the country’s largest international airport in the capital, Tashkent, told RFE/RL they don’t offer Islamic sermons to passengers.
Meanwhile, in Namangan, the various imams preaching at the airport also urge passengers heading to Russia to remain loyal to their spouses, to Islam, and their homeland “no matter where” they are.
“Muslim women shouldn’t cheat on their husbands and Muslim men shouldn’t cheat on their wives, regardless of where you are, because God doesn’t like transgressors,” Abduvosit said.
The message is a vital one as the strain of being far away from a spouse for a long period of time while working in Russia has led to the breakup of many marriages.
The imam also urged those heading to Russia not to forget their “financial and moral responsibilities” to their parents and children -- the main reason many of the millions of Uzbeks go to Russia seeking work.