Thursday, March 13, 2014

Islamic Law and Political Opposition in Uzbekistan

                The role of Islamic scholarship and jurisprudence has been a priority concern of administrative systems in the republic of Uzbekistan.  “Official” Islam was promoted under the administration of the Soviet Union.  To establish a formal state foundation for Islamic jurisprudence, the Soviet administration commissioned the Muslim Spiritual Directorate for Central Asia and Kazakhstan (SADUM).  Through the SADUM, the authoritative voice for Soviet Muslims in Central Asia was a Mufti who was employed and advised by the state.  The Soviet Mufti legitimized certain aspects of Islam and cultural tradition, permitting a supervised function of mosques and Islamic worship within Soviet Central Asia.
                “Official” Islam in contemporary Uzbekistan is promoted by the former SADUM, which was reorganized into the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan, under the Ministry of Religious Affairs.  This apparatus is formally led by the state-sponsored Mufti Chairman Usmanhan Alimov.  Usmanhan Alimov has the authority to issue fatwah (opinions to guide the deliberations of Uzbek civil and criminal courts) and is tasked with promoting Islam in a manner that is satisfactory or non-threatening to the concerns of the state.  The role of the Chairman appears to be limited to the issue of fatwah, which may officially direct the practices of Uzbek Muslims.  For example, the Mufti Chairman can issue calls to regulate hajj pilgrimages to Mecca, and can also issue fidyas (fees to Muslims failing to observe fasting during Ramadan) which are said to go to the benefit of the community.[1]
                What does the Mufti Chairman say about the unofficial voices of Islam in Uzbekistan?  In a 2012 statement in Tashkent, he was quoted: “Recently in the territory of Central Asia, some political and extremist forces are also trying to politicize religion to influence the minds of people, young people in particular.[2]  This activity can lead to a breach of international and interreligious unity and the separation of people into opposing groups.”  He went on to say that it is necessary to reveal to citizens of Uzbekistan that these groups are seeking to serve their own selfish goals, and that Islam does not call for violence, but tolerance instead.  This statement provides further distance between the Uzbek state’s “official” ulama (Muslim scholars and jurists) and alleged extremist organizations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir.  Such is the official stance of the state Mufti. 
                Meanwhile, the political Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir of Uzbekistan continues to produce videos listing alleged martyrs and prisoners held in Uzbek prisons and camps.[3]  The most recent video, published in January 2014 lists almost a dozen alleged victims.  The video presents a message of opposition to the administration of President Islam Karimov, including the prayer “Oh Allah!  We pray for the speedy victory of Islam and Muslims over the unbelievers and for a speedy restoration of the righteous state of Caliphate, the ruler of swearing Muslims!  Then marginalized, humiliated and insulted Muslims of Uzbekistan will be sheltered under the patronage of Caliphate, the ruler of Muslims.  Then the widows and orphans will be able to exact revenge on their oppressors!” 
                Another opposition coalition, the People’s Movement of Uzbekistan, issued a call in February 2014 for violent struggle against the government.  On its website, an author by the pseudonym of Usman Khaknazarov posted a transcript of an alleged speech made by President Karimov to his Cabinet of Ministers.[4]  In it, Karimov allegedly accuses his Cabinet of attacking his family and vying to become his successor, and states that he intends to remain in power for life.  The accuracy of the transcript is under debate, but the author proceeded to call for the People’s Movement of Uzbekistan and other Uzbek citizens to unite and overthrow the regime with force.  Some have accused exiled Erk party opposition leader Mohammad Solih of authoring the statement, though he publicly denies any involvement in its production.[5] 
                In summary, the official stance of the Uzbek government and its appointed Mufti Chairman appears to condemn religious political opposition from developing.  However, this does stance so far does not appear to have silenced publicized voices of opposition from groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir and the People’s Movement of Uzbekistan.  If opposition statements continue to be produced, it is likely that the government will further widen the scope of its military and security apparatus.  These developments are precipitating in advance of the 2014 Uzbek parliamentary elections and the recently postponed presidential election due in 2015.  

1. Farishta.  "Upravleniye musul'man Uzbekistana ob"yavilo razmery zakyata v svyashchennyy mesyats Ramadan"  July 07, 2013. 
2.  Islam i politika v Tsentral'noy Azii.  "Usmankhan Temirkhon ugly Alimov muftiy Respubliki Uzbekistan i predsedatel' Upravleniya musul'man Uzbekistana"  Dec. 04, 2012.
3. Halifat News.  Jan. 07, 2014.  "Rezhim Islama Karimova nikak ne nasytitsya krov'yu shakhidov" 
4. Khaknazarov, Usman.   Narodnoye Dvizheniye Uzbekistana.  "Usman Khaknazarov: Islam Karimov reshil pozhiznenno ostat'sya u vlasti"  Feb 03, 2014. 
5. Salid, Muhammad.  "Lzhivaya dusha"  March 13, 2014.

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