TABLIGHI JAMAAT IN KYRGYZSTAN: ITS LOCAL SPECIFICS AND POSSIBLE IMPACT ON THE RELIGIOUS SITUATION

Kanatbek MURZAKHALILOV, Mirajiddin ARYNOV


Kanatbek Murzakhalilov, Deputy Director, State Commission for Religious Affairs, Kyrgyz Republic (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan)

Mirajiddin Arynov, Master of Political Science (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan)


Introduction

Early in the 1990s, men who stood out in the crowd because of their beards and Pakistani clothing flocked to the newly independent country. They were members of Tablighi Jamaat, a religious movement which called on the faithful to pattern their lives on the rules and customs of the Prophet Muhammad.

Its high level of activity soon turned it into the largest of the Islamic organizations and groups (both local and foreign) operating in Kyrgyzstan. At first, the newcomers concentrated their efforts on the countrys north, which is much less religious than the south. But after a while, the movement spread to the south to cover the republics entire territory.

The first missionaries (who did not know any of the local languages and spoke English and Arabic) came from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and India; they had to rely on local interpreters to explain the foundations of Islam to the people.

The Pakistani missionaries believe the Kyrgyz Republic to be the most fertile soil for tilling by foreign preachers; it is expected to serve as a springboard from which Islam, and its extremist trends, can be launched further across the region.

Over 50 citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic are now educated in the Islamic regional educational establishments of Pakistan, although this figure is hardly correct. There is any number of those who travel on tourist visas and private invitations without informing the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Kyrgyzstan (SAMK) and state structures to receive religious education abroad.

Tablighi Jamaat stepped up its involvement in the republics religious life with the help of those who returned to till the local soil after graduating from religious centers in Pakistan and India. Kyrgyz students prefer the Tablighi Jamaat madrasahs in Lahore and Rayvind where they study Muslim theology and, not infrequently, bring back many religious convictions and teachings which contradict not only the local mentality, but also the Hanafi madhhab the Kyrgyz inherited from their ancestors.

In a very short time, the ranks of missionaries swelled with local people speaking Kyrgyz and Russian; some of them studied abroad, others had no formal education.

Members of Tablighi Jamaat in Kyrgyzstan

Today, the membership of Tablighi Jamaat is fairly large and diverse; there are laborers, shop owners, students, lecturers at higher educational establishments, businessmen, prominent actors, and even civil servants among them. Some of them devote a lot of their leisure time to daavat in all corners of the republic.

Most of the movements members are ethnic Kyrgyz; members of other nationalities are few and far between.

It seems that abroad the Kyrgyz were singled out as the main target of missionary activities mainly because they were less religious than the


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