The Kyrgyz newspaper Vecherniy Bishkek writes with concern about the way young people are drifting towards fundamentalist Islam in Kyrgyzstan's southern Osh Region. The paper blames the shortage of official teachers of Islam for teenagers flocking to these unlawful religious mentors. It asks whether young people are being "led towards God or the devil", and sees a need to provide children with extra-curricular activities to give them something to do and think about. The following is an excerpt from an article headlined "Between God and the Devil" published by the Kyrgyz newspaper Vecherniy Bishkek web site on 2 March.
Intellectual blindness is pushing young people into the ranks of religious dissidents
… An imam said during a conversation in one of the mosques in Aravan [a district in southern Osh Region] that now at least 100-120 young people in the District center are going to five or six priests providing instruction in official Islam (to learn to read Arabic and to recite daily prayers correctly). Approximately the same number are going in the opposite direction [to unofficial tutors]. These "non-traditional" tutors do not have permits to teach and to issue the relevant diplomas. The lessons are essentially being conducted unlawfully.
Radical mentors know their stuff
But what are they teaching them?
At the first lessons, peoples are simply taught Arabic grammar and the main fundamental teachings of Islam. As the pupils "become better at it", the mentor begins to inject into his teaching doses of ideas from radical trends, explaining what today's secular world is lacking and how to reorganize it.
"The mentor does this very carefully and consistently," Abdygany Abdugafurov, a well-known public figure in the area recounts. "It cannot be said that these tutors are lacking in a knowledge of sophisticated teaching methods and psychology, and young minds are pliant."
Very soon the young people become active helpers of their religious teachers. They encourage their coevals to join circles, disseminate what they have learnt and, when necessary, they defend the interests of "the new trend" in Islam. This happened a few months ago right here in Aravan. When an argument broke out between an adherent of traditional Islam and the local "innovators" regarding the transfer of the central mosque to one of the temples controlled by the latter, quite a few young people stood up for the radicals. The believers managed to clear the air, maintaining the central mosque's pride of place as the venue for Friday prayers.
Moreover, this precedent showed that, when necessary, the younger generation can be used as emissaries for various religious trends, which are being used as a weapon.
"These forces are not only capable of causing a schism among the believers, but a confrontation of generations, when children go against their parents," a military veteran, Mumin Karimov, worries.
Unlike the quiet, calm liberals, these attract with their irrepressible energy, their art of oratory and their ability to gain people's favor. They stress the importance of "innovation" saying that we need a new, reforming Islam, not a dogmatic one.
Fundamentalists are filling a vacuum
The passiveness of the representatives of official Islam is also having an effect. Bear in mind the way that young people are always drawn to everything that is new, dynamic, analysts in a number of local non-governmental organizations think.
"Essentially, the radicals are actively filling a vacuum. For decades now people have not known hardly anything about the fundamentals of religion, they have nothing to compare it with. It is a blank page. Many people accept everything, just believe things. What the young teachers are bringing to them is like pure truth," a teacher from Osh, Kadyrbay Ishenaliyev, thinks. His colleague, Mamatnazar Zhorobayev agrees. [He says] The insatiable minds of children are hungry for knowledge and absorb everything like a sponge, and the secular educational institutions do not offer alternatives from a spiritual point of view. Issues of morality and intellectuality are a weak point in our schooling.
The police in Osh Region have confirmed that teenagers are being taught by adherents of illegal trends. But people cannot be made answerable for teaching, they say at the law-enforcement bodies.
"If children have been involved in unlawful activity, let's say, circulating leaflets, the contents of which are opposed to the constitution, that is another matter. We would immediately take measures," the deputy head of the regional internal affairs directorate's public relations department , Kanybek Abzhalov. "And then anyone can protest against our activities in court. Yes, they say, I teach children to say their prayers, to read Arabic, what's bad about that?"
The statistics also confirm what has been said. Last year among the two dozen [banned Islamic party] Hezb-ut Tahrir activists detained in the region there was not a single minor. Nor are there any on the precautionary register of 600 radicals.
Children lack guidance and knowledge
So, what has to be done to protect the young from dangerous amusements?
"It says in the Koran that parents are responsible for the actions of their children," the director of the Abdyzhapar Islamic Institute, in the suburbs of Osh, [Hajji] Umarali Bekmurat uulu says. The local officials think that the holy fathers should have a say. You see, the local judges appointed by the muftis in populated areas should bear responsibility for monitoring who teaches people and what they teach. It looks as if they have just left things to take their own course.
People are not being provided with proper explanations on the spot. It is precisely the lack of knowledge about the essence and purposes of informal religious associations, which are, in the view of analysts, sending young people straight into their embrace.
Qualified teachers of religion as well as theologians with diplomas in the south are trained at the faculty of theology at Osh State University, at the Abdyzhapar Islamic Institute and two dozen madrasas [seminaries]. But there is still an acute shortage of staff at religious organizations. Many old priests do not get through their appraisals.
"Religious instruction should be provided under license. Then there will some kind of order," they say at the local non-governmental organizations. The experts in these associations also propose stepping up extra-curricular activities, so that kids are encouraged to do useful things and are safeguarded against the confusion that they are experiencing with regard to what they should be thinking and doing. It is good to have religious instruction, but the question is where are these particular teachers leading them, to God or the devil?
Vecherniy Bishkek/Eurasianet, March 02/10, 2004