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What Is The Place Of Faith In Secular Kyrgyzstan?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017 - 04:21

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the downfall of the communist ideology, Kyrgyzstan – just like the entire former Soviet Union – began to experience the natural process of returning to its historical and national roots, including its spiritual roots. Today, under the conditions of the market economy and thoughtless forcing of the Western norms of democracy, when the majority of the population feel more insecure, vulnerable, and fearful of tomorrow than ever, when the spiritual decline permeates all the layers of society, the question of moral and spiritual values is especially acute. However, before they started to talk not only about their daily bread, the resulting ideological vacuum was quickly filled by the numerous sects and new movements carrying an ideology that was alien to the Kyrgyz people, borrowed from other countries. There was a real threat that the country might break down into separated parts by ideological, religious and confessional attributes.


The sociological studies conducted by the Strategic Analysis and Forecast Institute show that the majority of the population (94 percent) consider themselves Muslims historically. Even the vast majority of young people identify themselves primarily as Muslims, and then as Kyrgyzs. The SAFI experts believe that this fact should be borne in mind by both the state and religious institutions when trying to protect the society againt radical movements, religious intolerance and nationalism.


A very revealing fact is that Russian President Vladimir Putin compared the Russian traditional confessions with a nuclear shield that strengthens the Russian statehood and creates “the necessary prerequisites to ensure internal and external security of the country.” It should be recognized that the Kremlin was one of the first among the former Soviet republics to recognize the importance and the role of religion in the formation of the state. Until recently, in Central Asia, the objective value of religion was recognized perhaps only by Tajikistan. This republic allowed a political party of the religious persuasion; moreover, the party was represented in the Parliament of Tajikistan. Of course, all these achievements are the result of complex processes and a large-scale work carried out by the country's leadership and religious authorities, which established a dialog between the authorities and the clergy of Tajikistan. However, this situation was not observed in all the countries of the region.


Studying the problems of religious extremism, the SAFI experts have come to the following conclusion: as a humanitarian component of society that provides a direct influence on the nature and direction of social and political processes in Kyrgyzstan, Islam may take over the role of the backbone of the Kyrgyz people's spiritual revival and make a significant contribution to the formation and strengthening of the statehood of Kyrgyzstan.


As of today, Kyrgyzstan has become not only a place where Islam entrenched, having come from outside long ago, but also a powerful source of the further spread of this religion. Undoubted is the fact that at present Islam is an important element of individual and social behavior in Kyrgyzstan.


The trend of “revival” of Islam in Kyrgyzstan is obvious. The current and future leaders of the country will have take this process into account. However, the most important thing is to find appropriate responses in a timely fashion. The Soviet government policy of “scientific” atheism was one of the reasons that the religious institutions and knowledge of our Muslims remained at a low level. Another negative factor is the prolonged isolation of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan from the rest of the Islamic world, from the well-known and reputable centers of Islamic knowledge.


In recent years, especially after the terrorist attacks in the United States, government officials, politicians, experts usually emphasize only the negative side of religion when discussing related issues; they reduce their all thoughts to finding ways of countering religious extremism. As of today, it seems more optimal to develop such a format of relations between the state and the church, which will not only reduce the threat of religious extremism, but also provide an opportunity to use the religious potential in the public interest.


As of today, post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan has built more than 2,000 mosques; the number of Hajj pilgrims has increased by many times. Our citizens' rights to freedom of religion are actually enforced. The downside of this situation is the evangelization of the indigenous population. In the framework of democracy, human rights and religious freedom, a number of organizations from the Western countries are de facto implementing the slogan of the American Protestant missionaries of the 14th century: “The evangelization of the world.” There is reason to believe that the withdrawal of the indigenous population into the fold of other churches is not only the result of the efforts of South Korean or American preachers. To a greater extent, it is due to the low level of religious culture of our Muslims. Ubiquitous is the ignorance of both ordinary believers and clergy. Moreover, as a rule, the positions of religious leaders are sought by persons who intend to use their position for personal gain, and are not interested in transforming Islam into a factor of democratic renewal of Kyrgyzstan.


Of course, today there is not enough evidence to suggest that Islam has really become an effective support for the moral and intellectual growth of the present society. However, the state does not have a clear position on this issue, limiting it to general declarations on the recognition of religion as a vehicle of human values.


The complex processes in the religious and spiritual spheres have affected the role of Islam in the political life of the country. In fact, Islam went beyond the family and household scope, having become a political factor in the country. There arises a reasonable question: Is the state ready for such a turn of events? Modern Muslim clergy and believers themselves show little desire to actively use the opportunities of religion only for the good of the state and society. Rather, we can say that organizations and leaders of the opposition are being more active – and sometimes even radical leaders who oppose themselves to the society and the authorities. An example of this is the growing activity of the radical party “Hizb ut-Tahrir” and other extremist movements. Therefore, if we evaluate the role of Islam in the current political situation, it is more controversial than constructive. It is difficult to give evidence of a successful struggle of the official clergy against radicalism. At this point, we could ask the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan: what have you done in the ideological confrontation against the radical religious manifestations? The official clergy of Kyrgyzstan is toothless; they do not know ways to confront radical views planted by members of the party “Hizb ut-Tahrir.” It is also clear that the government should change its attitude towards Islam, perceive the real significance of this phenomenon in the life of modern Kyrgyzstan. Simply put, our sluggishness and narrow-mindedness are caused by the existing stereotypes about Islam. As a result, the state loses the opportunity to employ religion in the fight against religious extremism.


It so happened that we are used to look at Islam as a threat to the state and society in the fight against radicalism. That is why, law enforcement and security agencies are entrusted to solve the majority of problems in this sphere. Such a one-sided approach does not meet our current needs. As demonstrated by the recent elections in the country's parliament, the authorities were not ready for the penetration of Islam into the political fabric of our being. Whether we like it or not, a number of public organizations established by Muslims are already the prototypes of future of political parties, although the country's Constitution does not provide a legal basis for their establishment in accordance with the religious principle. Today, Kyrgyzstan has entered a new stage of development, which strongly requires public policies aimed at maximizing the involvement of Islamic moral and intellectual potential in the process of democratic reforms in the country. The new format of relations between the state and religion should envisage not a rough displacement of Islam from the politics by the principle of prohibition, but a direction of its political activity in a channel that corresponds to the interests of the state. The effectiveness of such a government approach will be higher if the parameters of Islam's involvement in the politics have an Islamic justification, if this involvement is based on the positive framework of the Muslim political and legal culture, with its adaptation to the conditions of the secular state. In other words, the government should make Islam produce such a political concept that would meet the interests of the state.


The problem outlined above should be solved in the general context of countering the acts of extremism that appeal to Islam. It is impossible to do by means of hard legislative prohibitions only.


No less important is the ideological aspect. The strength of the positions of the Muslim radicals is due to a theoretical justification of their actions by Islamic concepts, and not just due to the unresolved political, socio-economic and other problems. In other areas of combating this threat, there have already been taken sufficiently effective measures, including in the framework of broad international cooperation. On the other hand, the ideological confrontation against the radicals yet remains outside the scope of attention of the state. It is possible to undermine the influence of destructive forces only by development of Islamic ideological alternatives that would be opposed to extremism and terrorism.


In developing the state strategy on Islam, the authorities must necessarily proceed from the following principles. First of all, it should be stated that the state is not opposed to Islam, does not consider it as an enemy, but, on the contrary, considers the revival of Islam as a factor for stable development of the country, views the Islamic culture as an important part of society. We must clearly realize that the Islamic values ​are not a threat to the national interests and security of Kyrgyzstan, but the republic's potential wealth and backbone.


Statesmen, officials and politicians must remember that Islam is not an alien phenomenon to us. It is an integral part of our history and culture, the way of life of our citizens. As part of this culture, there was formed a rich heritage of ideas, including political and legal concepts. Yes, the Islamic culture has developed a variety of views on the foundations of power and law, on the relationship between man and the state, on society as a whole. Some of these concepts are used to justify political extremism. However, the main aspect in the ideological heritage of Islam is the theoretical basis for principles such as moderation, stability, loyalty to the government, deliberativeness, willingness to compromise, damage warning. The initial Islamic framework, its interpretations by reputable scholars are convincing arguments against the ideology of Islamic extremism and terrorism. The political and legal doctrine of Islam can and should serve democratic forces rather than extremists, working not to destabilize society and the state but to consolidate them.


Unfortunately, the power structures engaged in development and implementation of the legal policy do not have sufficient experience in dealing with the problems of Muslims based on the Islamic law. In this context, it is extremely important to approach more closely such a subject as the state's attitude to the Islamic legal culture. Currently, the Sharia laws are perceived by the power structures as a symbol of Islamic fundamentalism and separatism, which reflects their extremely superficial perception of Islam. Given that Islam encourages the pursuit of knowledge, today we are witnessing an elementary ignorance. The Muslim legal culture could help to solve urgent problems such as development of the policy on the basis of moral principles.


Given the growing influence of Islam on society, the secular authorities can not ignore the Islamic component in the minds of the people. Otherwise, they run the risk to lose public support in the near future.


Another very important point is the fact that Islam is a significant factor in international life. The competent state policy in this area is what largely predetermines the prospects of Kyrgyzstan's cooperation with the Muslim countries – and, therefore, the republic's role in the modern world.


Today, it is becoming obvious that the fight against terrorism is effective in alliance with the Islamic countries that have been subjected to terrorist attacks themselves. We can confidently say that we almost do not use the potential of international Muslim organizations – primarily, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (formerly, the DEC) – in matters such as the establishment of the true Islamic values ​​as an ideological alternative to the extremism manifested under the banner of Islam. In the military, organizational and informational spheres, Kyrgyzstan's main allies in the fight against international terrorism are the countries of the progressive international community. On the other hand, the main partner of our country in the ideological and theoretical confrontation against Islamic terrorism may be the moderate Muslim regimes and the reputable centers of enlightened Islamic thought. For example, we do not pay due attention to an issue such as the interpretation of the concept of jihad and the ways of its realization in modern conditions. However, the scholars from Islamic states have already given their contemporary estimates of the matter, and this may directly relate to Kyrgyzstan and its security. In other words, Kyrgyzstan and Islamic countries can and should cooperate in the ideological disarmament of those who use the Islamic postulates contrary to the religion's true values.

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