Inside Kyrgyzstan’s battle for the seat of chief Mufti
The Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan has been engulfed in numerous scandals for over a decade now. Current Mufti Maksat azhi Toktomushev, for instance, recently has been accused of not having proper education to be chief Mufti and has been appointed thanks to his powerful connections with high officials, using intimidation and pressure.
The Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan (SAMK) is directly responsible for the content of the sermons in the mosques and training programs in the religious institutions throughout Kyrgyzstan. On 4 April the country will elect a new Mufti and whoever takes over will set the tone for the next few years.
The full list has not yet been unveiled by SAMK, however it is known that former Mufti Chubak azhi Zhalilov, who ran SAMK from 2010 to 2012, is also running for the position.
He was remembered for being himself in control of the content of sermons, experts note.
In recent years, numerous Muslim communities, political experts and country’s State Committee for National Security (former KGB) heavily criticized SAMK for its close ties with the extremist group Tablighi Jamaat – the group that has been banned in many CIS countries and Russia, however Kyrgyzstan is still arguing its eligibility.
For instance, in the past decade SAMK has sent hundreds of Kyrgyz students and teenagers to Pakistan, India and Bangladesh to study.
When these students return to Kyrgyzstan they become extremists and that makes the whole region of Central Asia volatile to religious dissension. The country has seen two coup d’etats since gaining independence from the Soviet Union, which undermines country’s whole political system – the world has witnessed such scenarios in Egypt and Libya. Numerous Kyrgyz political experts also note the group’s active participation in the tragic events of the second coup in April 2010.
Kyrgyz own religious group Yakin Inkaar was established in 2013 in the Issyk Kul region based on the teachings of Tablighi Jamaat. This group, however, is closer in spirit to the Salafis of Saudi Arabia. They oppose any innovations in the life of Muslims. Supporters of the Yakin Inkaar do not recognize laws regulating spiritual activity, they do not work, usually look untidy and wear long beards, have dirty legs, no education and do not recognize secular science, do not use transport, do not touch money.
SAMK sees nothing wrong with these extremist groups that mostly comprise provincial young men, however law enforcement keep a good eye on them.
Observers are hoping the spiritual leadership of the country would make the right decision to avoid the spread of non-traditional religious teachings and not start conflicts similar to those in Libya or Syria.