Islam in Central Asia still bears the marks of the Soviet legacy, with the destructions and shrinkage of religious knowledge as well as the exclusion of religious life from public. This, however, also meant that the region has had no experience of the trend of ideological Islam, which developed during the same period in some other parts of the Muslim world, stated Adeeb Khalid (Carleton College) at a panel on interpretations of Islam in Central Asia during the 8th Conference of the Central Eurasian Studies Society.
John Schoeberlein (Harvard University) reported that more and more people are drawn to different forms of Islam. This does not necessarily mean those alternative visions of Islam will encourage political opposition, although reactions of regimes such as the government of Uzbekistan tend to be repressive and thus increase the potential for tensions. But the search for alternatives is partly a result of the discrediting of official institutions of Islam, which are seen as bankrupt and corrupt, observed Eric McGlinchey (George Mason University) at a roundtable on new concerns in Central Asia. Some of the alleged “radicals” are actually eager to promote a “cleaner” form of Islam, which may indeed clash with local customs, but is not necessarily political.
Nevertheless, the situation on the ground is more complex that it may appear, suggested Alisher Khamidov (John Hopkins University) at another panel on religion and politics. There are hundreds of registered Islamic groups in Uzbekistan. Provided Islamic actors keep a low profile and do not engage into relations with radicals, they will often be protected by local officials. Moreover, kinship will also play a role. Uzbekistan is an extreme case: other countries, such as Kyrgizstan, are more liberal, although a number of officials with a Soviet background feel that too much freedom might encourage divisive ideas and weaken the State.
— By Jean-François Mayer