Erkin Kurmanov, Expert, State Commission for Religious Affairs at the Government of Kyrgyzstan

The authorities of Kyrgyzstan are treating Islam and its educational activities in the republic with due respect. The nation is awakening to the traditions, the moral and other Muslim values. On the other hand, the open and democratic nature of our country attracts extremist religious organizations.

They abuse the peoples religious feelings and exploit lack of adequate experience of the state institutions needed to work together with the religious organizations in order to change the constitutional order by using all possible means, violence included. To realize their aims they set up, across the Central Asian region, all sorts of political structures that they try to present as parties of Islamic revival. Their actual aim is a radical Islamic state.

Being convinced that the Central Asian population is not prepared to grasp the ideas of jihad, some of these organizations are doing their best to disseminate religious ideas illegally with the help of leaflets and similar publications. These clandestine activities called religious enlightenment are mainly pursued by the illegal Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami party (the Islamic Revival PartyHTI) with an aim of reviving the Islamic community and the way of life by re-establishing the Caliphate on the worldwide scale.1

Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami

Today, this is the most active religious and political Sunni party with headquarters in Western Europe (probably in Germany or Great Britain). It also has offices in Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and other Arab countries, in Turkey and some European states. Recently such offices appeared in the Central Asian republics, too.

The party was formed in 1952 and united members of the notorious religious and political party Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin (The Muslim Brotherhood). Its founder Taqee-Deen Nabahani (1909-1979) was also its first leader. He described his ideas in numerous leaflets and articles, the greater part of them written when he was an Ikhwan member. These theoretical propositions can be easily seen in what he and his followers wrote.

The Hizb ut-Tahrir guides itself by the idea of restoration of the Caliphate of the Prophet and his first four descendants (until the murder of Caliph Ali in 661). According to HTI theoreticians, this was the only just state in the history of Islam in which public product was equally distributed among all: in this the Muslim community followed the spirit and letter of the Divine commandments while the caliphs were elected from among the most worthy. Later Islamic local and regional states (such as the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates and the caliphs of the Ottoman Empire) are also recognized as caliphates that had removed themselves from the principles of the genuine caliphate.

The Hizb ut-Tahrir theorizes that to revive the caliphate today each Muslim, and later the Muslim community as a whole should change their way of life and mode of thinking to move toward true Islam.

At the early stage the party is mainly concerned with education and enlightenment (an-nahiyatu sakafiya) to implant the correct political awareness in the minds of the ummah (Muslim community) and non-Muslims. Non-Muslims can be allowed to join the party. The road to the final aim is divided into three stages: the struggle to shape a correct Islamic mode of thinking through cultural propaganda; a revolution in thinking through political and cultural penetration of society; and seizure of power (possibly in one country) with the help of all society that has turned truly Muslim.

The party has a charter and a program. Some politicians are convinced that HTI is not a party, yet its program clearly indicates that it is a political movement the ideology and aim of which is to restore the Islamic Caliphate able to realize all Islamic prescriptions. With this aim in view, the program allows to change the existing order by force of arms, to liquidate the non-Islamic realities and to spread the Islamic mission across the world through a jihad.

The age bracket for the party members is between 18 and 30. They should be well versed in the Islamic canons, eager to re-establish the Islamic state, and act in strict secrecy. The new members take their oaths on the Koran: they vow never to betray the interests of Islam, never to reveal information about the party to the public, and fight for the caliphate till the end.

Secrecy demands that each aspirant be first carefully investigated, his place of work and home address checked, and the newcomers who are entrusted with certain tasks carefully watched.

The majority of the newcomers are little educated young men from destitute agricultural localities stricken with poverty and unemployment and offering no chances of decent education. The competent services report that the party members are trying to enlist new members from among the intelligentsia, academics, and students. Secrecy requires that the meeting places are frequently changed, each member of a local group is expected to find new addresses at which new educational groups are formed. Trained enough, these people are expected to open a group of their own.

A republican organization is headed by a Mutamad who has masul leaders (regional or city) under him. Their assistants (musond) look after individual districts.

Nobody knows from which sources the party draws its money, yet all know that funding is more than lavish. Hizb ut-Tahrir has a wide international network and prints a lot of legal and illegal literature. Its local groups live on membership dues (each of the members should pay from 5 to 20 percent of his profits to the party coffers every month). The party has a chain of small businesses that help it to keep afloat: the money thus collected is spent on copiers, communication means (including mobile phones), and printing activities.

Hizb ut-Tahrir in the New Conditions

At first the party preferred semi-legal propaganda of its ideas through printed materials, conferences, etc., yet the suspicious authorities of the countries where it unfolded its clandestine efforts forced the party to formulate a charter proposition about complete conspiracy and absolute secrecy about the places where its leaders could be found. Still, as before the party relied on propaganda among the Muslims, open discussions with opponents, distribution (more or less secretly) of books and leaflets. This mode of work and the partys complete religious and social isolation from the confessional environment (that was also Muslim, after all) bred extreme intolerance in the party ranks against other Muslims who repaid in kind.

When the Soviet Union disappeared from the map of the world leaving an ideological vacuum among the Muslims behind it, the local HTI leaders managed to enlist a certain part of believers in Central Asia. Ordered by their masters abroad, they disseminated subversive publications, became engaged in agitation and propaganda that exploited social and economic difficulties. The party stepped up its publishing activity and flooded the region with its literature. It reaches Kyrgyzstan via Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, the books are mainly in Uzbek, part of them are in Tajik. Translations were obviously done by qualified specialists and ideologists of Islamic radicalism.

The following books top the lists of religious literature: Nizomul Islom (The System of Islam), Hizut-Tahrir tushunchalari (The Hizb ut-Tahrir Concept), Hizbiy uiushma (The Solid Movement), Demokratiakuft nizomi (Democracy Is the Charter of Infidels), Halifalk (a book on how the Caliphate functioned), Izzat wa Sharaf sari (a book on the present state of the Islamic world and the conclusion it suggests), Al-Wai (a magazine that describes the world events and assesses them from the point of view of Tahrir).

The complete list contains 14 titles.

According to experts, the party literature tries to plant political Islam, religious fanaticism, it calls to civic disobedience and offers concrete methods of reaching the main aim.

Why HTI Emerged in the South of Kyrgyzstan

The leaders of the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Kyrgyzstan believe that the party has in view some specific aims when it tries to strike root in Central Asia and especially in Kyrgyzstan. Seventy years of atheism destroyed certain moral and religious traditions among part of the population. People fall easy prey to all sorts of sects.

No wonder, Islam in Central Asia that was mainly preserved at the everyday level could not oppose radical Islamic trends. Their influence spread because of an absence of classical (dogmatic) religious education and a deficit of intellectual clergy. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, only 30 to 40 percent of the imams have special religious education.

The south of Kyrgyzstan is an ethnic patchwork where mosques and madrasahs were mushrooming without plan and where foreign Islamic missionaries were working according to clearly designed plans. As a result the traditional variant of Islam was split and radical Islamic trends gained ground.

Opinions differ about the time when the HTI came to Central Asia. According to B. Babadzhanov, well-known expert on Islam, the HTI Uzbek branch came to the Ferghana Valley as soon as the state structures of Uzbekistan had removed the Islamic organizations Adolat (Justice), Islam Lashkorlari (Warriors of Islam) and Towba (Repentance) in 1992 that worked in Namangan.2

In Central Asia populated by ethnically identical people any new religious organization can easily move across practically non-existent frontiers and spread its ideas in the Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and Tajik parts of the valley.

There is information that the HTI was detected in Tashkent back in 1995this is confirmed by documents and materials gathered by the law enforcement structures of Uzbekistan. Out of 12 party activists sentenced by the Tashkent City Court on 14 May, 1999 eight had been active in HTI structures since 1995.

It was approximately at the same time that the HTI emissaries appeared in the south of Kyrgyzstan where they disseminated leaflets which called on the people to wipe off the Islam Karimov regime in Uzbekistan. At first, the law enforcement bodies of Kyrgyzstan preferred to ignore the agitators, therefore we do not know when exactly a party branch was set up in the south of our republic. The law enforcement officers could offer no information about the organization that was spreading leaflets there.

The first secret cells appeared in the Osh and Dzhalal-Abad regions in 1997-1998. Since 1999, having set up their network, the activists started acting in the open. They were greatly encouraged by the inroads of the militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in Kyrgyzstan.

It was at that time that the Kara-Suu District Court for the first time considered criminal cases against A. Tashmatov (28) and A. Imanbaev (20). The Aravan District Court considered criminal cases against 12 young men who disseminated religious literature and lured new members. They were charged with violations of Art 299 Incitement of Ethnic, Racial and Religious Hostility and Art 147 Encroachments on the Person and Rights of Citizens under the Pretext of Performing Religious Ceremonies of the Criminal Code of the republic.3

The terrorist inroads into Batken forced HTI to publicly part roads with IMU. In the wake of the events of 11 September, 2001 and fearing wide-scale reprisals in Central Asia many of HTI members went underground. The organization announced that it supported actions against the infidel powers (the U.S. and U.K.) that had started the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan. Some time later the HTI members resumed their activities: leaflets and books were disseminated as before and new members found. All this was even more secret than before.

The world community pays less attention to HTI than to other Islamist organizations. Still, the organizations shared many of the IMU ideas mainly related to establishing Islamic political order in Central Asia. HTI itself is nurturing even a more utopian idea: to revive the Caliphate that would unite all Muslims. IMU meanwhile is working toward a narrower aim: toppling down the government of Uzbekistan.

On the whole Kyrgyzstan is treating HTI more liberally, therefore the party feels less pressed there than in Uzbekistan and its negative influence on the religious situation in our country is more obvious.

The HTI Social Basis

The Kyrgyz branch is mainly made up of young people and is supported mainly by the Uzbeks living in the south of Kyrgyzstan. According to the Ministry of National Security, 90 percent of its members are Uzbeks, 10 percent are Kyrgyz. Today, the special services are closely watching about 20 HTI members in Bishkek, Tokmak, and Kara-Balta.

The HTI ideas attract unemployed young men always prepared to political and religious opposition. They would like to establish a just government and start sharing the social product like this was done under the Prophet and four Righteous Caliphs. The people who join the party want to get rid of harsh realities of the market and social problems (low wages and unemployment) that plague Central Asia. They condemn the Godless authorities of Uzbekistan and other states, the enemies of Islam (the United States and Israel). Those who join HTI are attracted by its opposition and open political discussions: the religious leaders of other trends demonstrate their apolitical nature. The young mens vague future and their acute desire for justice suggest that the present regime should be radically changed. They are especially responsive to the idea of the Golden Age of the Caliphate through a jihad.

The party enlists new members mainly from among those who attended religious schools and from among students and intelligentsia. According to the law enforcement bodies, over 2 thousand party followers are closely watched as a preventive measure.4 Experts believe that if the party membership continues to swell without control the state will face real danger.

Printed Materials

I have said above that Islamist religious literature reaches the south of Kyrgyzstan mainly from Uzbekistan and from far abroad. Leaflets in the Kyrgyz language are printed locally. At first glance there is nothing wrong with them: they describe Islamic rites and discuss the Sharia.

The party offers its understanding of what is going on in the world and the region and insists that it avoids violence and the use of arms, does not practice terrorism, has no use for explosives and robberies. It says that it rejects violence not out of fear of the authorities and their adequate response but because by calling on the Muslims to restore the Islamic state it guides itself by the injunctions of the Apostle that ban violence.

Hizb ut-Tahrir started a war of leaflets in response to the wave of repressions in Central Asia and did not miss mentioning any single fact of such repressions against the Muslims. The leaflets call on them to open a jihad against the infidels, not to be afraid of arrests, follow the road of Allah, and win through patience.

In the past HTI mainly tried to raise the Muslims against the authorities of Uzbekistan. Today, they are pressing against the authorities and the law enforcement bodies of Kyrgyzstan. The content of such leaflets is anti-constitutional and anti-state. HTI obviously threatens the countrys territorial integrity and security.

Several times the partys ideologists contacted the republican media in an effort to enlist cooperation of the journalists in the Osh and Dzhalal-Abad regions. They argued that the Muslims have the right to know what HTI wants so that not to be afraid of their harmless religious movement. These were obviously attempts to restore the partys good name in the public eye and to alter their tactics. The party, however, has not dropped its major strategic aima single Caliphate in Central Asia.

Lately, the party has split because some of the members refused to spread leaflets and continue propaganda efforts.

Its political and economic programs are full of utopian ideas of economic and social equality while its dogmas are based on bits and pieces from the Koran and hadiths taken out of their original contexts.

Kyrgyz Politicians and the Clergy about Hizb ut-Tahrir

Having studied in detail the leaflets and pamphlets that the party is spreading across the republic, we concluded that they detract the Muslims from the true way of the Prophet. What is more, they compromise the clergy, interfere with our efforts to let the genuine Islamic valuespeace, respect for the elders, and modestybe known to all. By calling on the people to restore the Caliphate and thus change the existing state order the party emissaries contradict what Allah Himself said in the Koran: O you who believe, obey Allah, and obey the Apostle, and those charged with authority among you (4:59). Indeed, why does nobody call on people to set up caliphates in the countries with deeply rooted Islamic traditions, such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya, Turkey, and Kuwait? Because the course of history has changed the very idea about the caliphates, the state order has changed, the countries and nations have opted for courses best suited to their social orders, writes the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Kyrgyzstan about Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Being aware of the threat to peace and social harmony created by all sorts of extremist teachings that exploit religion to disseminate their ideas and juggle with the Muslims religious feelings, the Administration set up a department of propaganda and agitation designed to prevent pollution of minds with extremism.

Mufti of the Muslims of Kyrgyzstan Kimsanbai azhy Abdurakhmanov has found even sharper words to describe the party: Its supporters dupe our citizens. This is an aggressive and militant party that does not serve Islam in the same way as the mujahiddeen who invaded Batken do not serve Islam. These intrigues reach us from Chechnia and are planted by other terrorists who want to set up an Islamic state. The HTI members teaching contradicts the very foundation of Islam while the party actions contradict the principles of the Sharia.5

Sheikh Alauddin Mansur well known in the republic as a theologian and translator of the Koran into the Kyrgyz language has said: The Surah Al-Anam says about those who divide the religion like the HTI members: As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, you [Muhammad] have no part in them in the least; their affair is with Allah. He will in the end tell them the Truth of all that they did (6:159). This means that membership in a religious party divides the religion. Those who do it leave the ranks of the followers of the Prophet Muhammad. The Hizb ut-Tahrir members have exchanged their faith for the party and they are sowing discord in the Islamic world!6

According to Doctor of Political Science Zh. Zhorobekov who used to head the State Commission for Religious Affairs, many HTI activists know theology well, they are past masters of psychological methods of persuasion and agitation, they are devoted members of Hizb ut-Tahir and are close to its leadership. I think that they are beyond any arguments. He says that we should concentrate on the grass-root level and work with those who still doubt. This is the task for the clergy, well-educated people who know the Koran and respect the laws of the Kyrgyz Republic.

Zhorobekov has pointed out that there were people in our political community who believed that the threat is overstated, yet we should not think that encroachments on the constitutional order could be regarded as not dangerous. The party should first register itself with the Ministry of Justice. After that it will get the right to forward political demands according to its officially registered program and rules. In the Kyrgyz Republic none of the political parties can be funded from abroad or function on a religious platform. Hizb ut-Tahrir violates both requirements of the law.7

T. Aitbaev, former minister of the interior, is convinced that religious extremism will bring nothing but trouble to Central Asia. Supported by huge amount of money it is fighting for souls and minds. The banner of religious extremism was hoisted to set up an Islamic state in the Ferghana Valley. The former minister believes that the Criminal Code is too lenient to such people, yet force alone is not enough. He says: We are trying to warn such people about the danger. I am resolved not to send them to prison but to explain to them where they are heading. Some of them are set free; the leaders trained abroad and paid from abroad should be detained and brought to court.8

Recently we have been witnessing the attempts to marry religion and politics in our republic and to use religion in private interests. This comes to light during election campaigns.

Tursunbay Bakir uulu, deputy to the Legislative Assembly, has the following to say: In my native Kara-Suu District of the Osh Region with the population of over 300,000 one out of five or six supports Hizb ut-Tahrir. We should not condemn people for utopian ideas. We should recognize that we have communists and people who support other ideas and would like to change the constitutional order.9

People from the law enforcement bodies sharply disagree with this. They are convinced that the Party of the Communists of Kyrgyzstan that is registered with the Ministry of Justice wants to change the state order through legal means while Hizb ut-Tahrir is a banned structure that pushes people of different nationalities and religions to a civil war.

Far from all local politicians agree with this. Human rights activists in the Ferghana Valley have set up a Protection Committee: they are convinced that the HTI members kept under lock are prisoners of conscience who have to pay for their religious and political convictions expressed in a non-violent form.10

Attempts to Counter HTI

Despite the measures that have already been taken, there is a threat of Islamic radicalism in the republics south. The Osh and Dzhalal-Abad regions with highly religious populations are especially vulnerable. An analysis of materials supplied by the local administrations, the national security services and the administrations of the interior shows that the religious situation there is undergoing qualitative changes. This information allows a conclusion that the extremists (people active in HTI) have started realizing their strategic plans. They are planting religious intolerance and incite people. In the process they are trying to lure young men.

Between the latter half of 1999 and the end of 2001 over 286 young men (more than 100 of them faced criminal charges) were detained in the Osh, Dzhalal-Abad and Batken regions. They were caught when disseminating religious books and leaflets of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Nearly all leaflets, audio and video materials and extremist literature were confiscated. In the north, in the Chu Region, two people were arrested, 30 leaflets and eight books published by the party were confiscated. The accused were charged with violating two articles of the Criminal Code: Art 299, Part 1 Incitement of Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Hostility and Art 147 Encroachments on Person and Rights of Citizens under the Pretext of Performing Religious Ceremonies.

The court trials demonstrated that the evidential base was weak: the actions of the accused could hardly be qualified according to the above articles. The courts of justice treated such cases with care and the sentences were mostly of a preventive nature.

This brought to life Resolution No. 510 of the government of 22 August, 2000 to refer to the Legislative Assembly a draft Law on Introducing Amendments and Additions into the Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic. The draft envisaged amendments to Art 299, Part 1 and dealt with punishment for printing, storing and disseminating extremist literature such as books, magazines, leaflets and other printed matter that incite ethnic, racial or religious hostility and abasement of ethnic dignity. (It is very important to prevent this amendment from turning into an instrument of pressure on the traditional Muslims.)

It should be noted that Kyrgyzstan deals leniently with the HTI members. The punishment for anti-state activities in Uzbekistan is from 8 to 15 years in prison; in Tajikistan, from 8 to 11 years. In Kyrgyzstan they are sentenced to 2 to 4 years in prison, normally they are let go with a fine. It should be added that the world has already learned that repressions do little goodthey just intensify radical movements.

The Uzbek leaders have recognized that the war against the Hizb ut-Tahrir party cannot be won by repressions alone. Lately, the republic has opened a large-scale propaganda campaign in which the official clergy is also involved.

The State Commission for Religious Affairs at the Government of Kyrgyzstan still concentrates on the situation inside the Islamic community and studies the general religious situation in the country. It has elaborated a set of measures designed to prevent religious extremism, to oppose religious extremism and to prevent Islam from becoming too political. The people are explained what the president and the government are doing in the religious sphere. On 5 April, 2001, by government decision No. 155, the Commissions headquarters were moved to Osh to be closer to the most troublesome area.

The Commissions heads and officials regularly meet people and conduct seminars in the border districts of Kara-Suu, Aravan and Nookat (Osh Region), in the Kadamzhay District (Batken Region), in the Bazar-Korgon, Uzgen, and Suzak districts (Dzhalal-Abad Region), and in the Talas, Chu, Issyk-Kul, and Naryn regions. This is done according to a plan. The events are designed for the members of regional and district administrations, officers from law enforcement bodies and members of the regional kazyiats, Mufti of Kyrgyzstan and clergy of the Spiritual Administration.

To preserve stability, harmony, and peace and to prevent extremist sentiments from crossing the borders coordinating councils for religious affairs were set up in all cities and districts of the republics south in strict accordance with the local specifics. All the mosques have been registered and a mechanism of information about what was going on in them was set up. There were cases when the most active believers identified HTI members and handed them over to the militia.

The local bodies of power have a say when imams are appointed. All the imams were informed that the Spiritual Administration had prohibited those people who missed certification to conduct religious ceremonies. This ban was also applied to those who studied in Islamic educational establishments not registered with the official structures. It was also prohibited to use Islamic literature not approved by the Spiritual Administration.

The State Commission and the Spiritual Administration are working together with the law enforcement bodies and the regional kazyiats to reveal the true nature of religious extremism to people. They get support from the local elders, village heads, village administrations and the youth. The republican TV and radio started several programs (Kolomto, Zhuma kutbasy, Islam zhana mezgil); newspapers and journals carry articles by religious leaders telling people about the moral principles and traditions and about extremist organizations.

On Fridays, during prayers in the central mosques of Bishkek, Osh, and Dzhalal-Abad people are told about the countrys security, religious tolerance, the need to strengthen the republics economy and to cut down spending on all sorts of religious rites. The law enforcement bodies, state administrations and local administrations are trying to be more efficient.

1 See: O. Moldaliev, Sovremennye vyzovy bezopasnosti Kyrgyzstana i Tsentralnoi Azii, Bishkek, 2001.

2 See: B. Babadzhanov, Ferganskaia dolina: istochnik ili zhertva islamskogo fundamentalizma, Tsentralnaia Azia i Kavkaz, No. 4, 1998.

3 See: M. Khamidov, Pod sudom ekstremisty, Vecherniy Bishkek, 14 January, 2000.

4 See: Vecherniy Bishkek, 28 January, 2002.

5 Delo No, 19 April, 2001.

6 Alauddin Mansur, Raskolniki, Vecherniy Bishkek, 28 September, 2001.

7 See: Zh. Zhorobekov, Chto pitaet ekstremizm, Vecherniy Bishkek, July 2001.

8 See: T. Aitbaev, Religiozniy ekstremizm v Sredney Azii, Vecherniy Bishkek, April 2001.

9 T. Bakir uulu, Problemy islamizatsii v Kyrgyzstane, Vecherniy Bishkek, 3 October, 2001.

10 See: Vecherniy Bishkek, 14 January, 2001.

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