Kyrgyzstan Muslim Cleric Hate

Chief Muslim Cleric Under Pressure


Rumblings of discontent with the current head of the Muslim clergy in Kyrgyzstan have more to do with factional strife within the clerical establishment than with theological disputes among the wider faith community, NBCentralAsia experts say.

At a November 24 press conference held in Osh, a group calling for reforms of the Islamic hierarchy announced it was launching a campaign to collect signatures in support of the resignation of Chief Mufti Murataly Ajy Jumanov. The group accused him of corruption.

Earlier, members of the Council of Clerics, part of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan – the official clerical body – had written to State Secretary Adakhan Madumarov asking him to lend his backing for the removal of Jumanov as mufti.

The Spiritual Directorate has formal recognition as the institution that represents Islam, which is the main faith in Kyrgyzstan and is professed by about 80 per cent of the population. The Chief Mufti is head of the directorate and chairs the Council of Clerics.

Jumanov rejected the charges made against him. “As mufti and as the spiritual leader of the entire Muslim community, I categorically state that these demands are without foundation. I see no reason why I should resign,” he said. “I have never striven to cling to this post. I came here to do good things, not to engage in intrigue.”

Mirlan Mamyrov, an expert in conflict studies, believes the campaign to oust the mufti is part of an internal power-struggle within the Spiritual Directorate, with the top job as the prize. Mamyrov said the dispute had nothing to do with sectarian differences among Muslims.

Abdraim Jorokulov, who advises the United Nations Development Programme on religious conflict prevention, agrees that the reasons why some are unhappy with Jumanov as mufti come down to divisions within the religious establishment.

Jorokulov thinks the dispute took off after the last Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, when many Kyrgyz citizens who had already paid for their trips found they were barred from going because their places on the quota of pilgrims was taken. Some claimed places on the list were given away to people from neighbouring states, who were slipped into the Kyrgyz quota after handing over some money.

The mufti accepted that there had been some wrongdoing, but he said the Spiritual Directorate had looked into the matter and had dismissed a number of local officials.

“The accusations should be addressed to the Haj organisation headquarters,” he said. “We only offer them guidance on Islamic principles.”

According to Mamyrov, the State Commission for Religious Affairs is not allowed to interfere directly in the affairs of the Muslim directorate, but it will certainly make its views about which candidate the government favours if Jumanov is ousted. Under Kyrgyz law, the commission is required to prevent radical Islamists from standing for the job of mufti and other leading posts in the clerical hierarchy.

Sheikh Alauddin Mansur, who leads prayers at a mosque in Karasuu in the south of the country, says that although there is no covert battle going on between adherents of different Islamic tendencies, there might well be political forces that want to create instability by encouraging sectarian differences. That being the case, the Kyrgyz government will not stand idly by if and when a new mufti is elected, he said.

Jorokulov believes the government will want a say in the appointment of a mufti, but not because it fears extremists. “Clan and regional rivalries are a feature of religion, just as in other areas of life in Kyrgyzstan. That implies that the election of a new mufti will not necessarily be democratic. The state will therefore seek a role in deciding which candidate is most desirable.”

(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)