A return to a secular ideal is unlikely in Central Asia, according to Shirin Akiner, a leading expert in Central Asian studies.
Her article is one of the contributions on religion in Central Asia and Islam in the former Soviet Union in the journal Religion, State & Society (June). The developments in Uzbekistan — considered as the key country for the whole area — show that the situation is more complex than a simple opposition secular government versus. Muslim opposition. The government has actually “coopted Islam to help legitimise and consolidate the postsoviet regime”, but the same government is keen to promote what it consider as “good,” mainstream Islam.
In this process, it has taken steps “toward the formal institution of an established faith” — while harshly repressing “fundamentalists,. who seem to have gained a strong foothold among many Muslims, as examplified by the militant group Hizb ut-Tahrir
In the Russian Federation, as in the rest of Central Asia, there has been considerable dispersion of Islamic authority, writes Galina Yemelianova the University of Birmingham (UK). “The existing four muftiates of the USSR have been superseded by dozens of new Islamic Spiritual Boards or muftiates.” According to Yemelianova, the collapse of the former ideology “has created a fertile breeding-ground for the emergence of new leaders” in all spheres of life, including Islam.
The flow of foreign Islamic assistance to Russia’s Muslims has also contributed to that development. It sometimes leads to confusion and competition between rival spiritual authorities. At the same time, village imams (90 percent of the Muslim clergy in Russia) feel that they receive no help or spiritual guidance from the muftiates. Another article chronicles how the spread of the Turkish-based Nurcu movement and schools in Central Asia have become a model of quality education in the region. But these schools have also raised controversy by their sophisticated and indirect method of Islamic proselytism.
(Religion, State & Society, Keston, 38 St Aldates, Oxford, OX1 1BN, UK. RSS is published by Carfax, an imprint of Taylor & Francis; http://www.tandf.co.uk.)
— This article was written with Jean-François Mayer