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Aman Saliev: The Islamic Community in Kyrgyzstan Should Be Intellectually Mature

“The Islamic community should be intellectually mature in terms of religiosity, and then it would be able to generate and produce decent and honest people. And when our society is in its embryonic state, we, unfortunately, produce and generate such politicians. As long as people remain the same, the community will never change,” Aman Saliev, an expert at the Institute for Strategic Analysis and Forecasting at the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University (KRSU), said in an interview to cabar.asia.

cabar.asia: What do you think about the trend towards the demonstration of religiosity by certain politicians, functionaries and prominent public persons during the Ramadan and other religious holidays in Kyrgyzstan?

Aman Saliev: The fact that politicians are actively displaying their religiosity during the election campaign shows that religion is a serious indicator of support, or vice versa, lack of support. People commonly associate religiosity with honesty. Unfortunately, most of the population has certain stereotypes. They think that if an official or a politician, or any other prominent public person, describes themselves as a religious person, then they must be honest, decent, and probably educated. But, unfortunately, people don’t fully understand what a religious politician should be like.

If we look through the research literature, the history of Islam, Islamic statehood in the Middle Ages, we will clearly see that no politician in the Islamic world has ever called for voting for him, it has never happened. No leader has ever promised the moon or said how good and pure he is. There have been many cases in the history of the Islamic statehood when people surrendered their powers and authorities in fear of responsibility before God for the people’s fates. Such people were often asked to hold any given office. Usually, people who have full understanding of faith realize that powers and authorities mean their responsibility before God for other people’s fates. Another important aspect here is that an official who passed away would be responsible for every person who has suffered during his rule. Therefore, the powers and authorities are not that attractive from the Islamic point of view.

Speaking about our situation, “I have not seen how the internal religiosity [of politicians and officials] has encouraged them to fight for the independence of the justice system so that it really works. The independent justice system would help us solve a range of economic and social issues. Such sincere faith should have pushed them for such actions. Unfortunately, our understanding of religion is never complete, it has more personal interests. Speaking about the Middle Ages, the Islamic rulers differed in their policies, and their actions benefited the whole community, whether Muslim or not. The benefit was felt by all members of the community, it was real and long-term. The major thing was that people had respective vision, professionalism and competence because the competence, from the Islamic point of view, is an integral part of every functionary.

cabar.asia: How much does the religiosity of politicians influence the success in elections?

Aman Saliev: I think it influences much now. Sometimes, this can be a determining factor. If an ineffective politician portrays himself as a religious figure, his weaknesses are overlooked. Ordinary people hope that one day a sector of intellectuals with a sense of conscience will appear, and politicians who will honestly fulfil their duties will emerge. Religion gives hope. Especially now, when the role of religion, not only Islam, but also Christianity, in general, and other confessions grows every year. This is an objective process towards the global injustice, mainly in economy and social relations.

Religion is a sacred and innermost thing that gives every person a way in the age of global injustice, discrimination, ignorance and obscurantism. Religion helps people find innermost answers to many challenges. And when it is used for trifling and superficial purposes, either appropriately or not, over time people would get a sound understanding of it, for better or for worse. However, it doesn’t exist yet. We should get through some stage, when people will move from emotional outbursts to rational thinking, but it takes time.

We should understand that the Islamic community should be intellectually mature in terms of religiosity, i.e. in the understanding of the Sharia law, Islam, Islamic sciences, understanding of human rights in Islam, and then it would be able to generate and produce decent and honest people in the society. And when our society is in its embryonic state, we, unfortunately, produce and generate such politicians. As long as people remain the same, the community will never change.

Allah doesn’t say, “you should seize the state, the power.” No. He says, “change yourselves.” It means that a person should rethink his life individually. He can have some weaknesses, e.g. he failed to pray namaz, or he had some alcohol, but when it concerns his professional functions, he should perform them well. As long as we don’t understand it, our society will be led by outrage-mongers and demagogues, whether Muslims or atheists. The overall level of education and vision in the religious and atheistic environment leaves much to be desired. We have lost the level we used to have in the Soviet period.  And now we are trying to claim we are a moral nation.

cabar.asia: Do these processes influence the national policy, institutions? Can we speak of the weakened secular standards of the state?

Aman Saliev: Speaking about the national policy, I don’t think they have a direct and tangible impact on it because it is international institutions, international organizations, the government that mostly set the tone of the national policy.

Few people in our society can clearly define the secularism. Many confuse atheism with secularism and have no idea of what they are. Secularism is all about neutrality, the neutral regulation of public relations regardless of confession. As a rule, people here assume some position and start putting their understanding of a religious or atheistic position into practice in an aggressive way.

It is too soon to say that the increased religiousness of society has made secular institutions surrender their positions. Moreover, we must understand that the modern, global system of law and economy is still secular and we will not avoid it. We are part of this system and we will keep being part of this system for a long time. […] The point is that the secularism we have in our constitution has been discredited much and has proved to be inefficient in the last 20 years. So I would encourage the people that consider themselves atheists or secular to be decent, more professional in their daily lives, which would let them maintain the appropriate level of secularism. And if these people and the body of officials keep on stealing cynically, breaching their professional ethics, saying they are secular or atheists fearing of the religious extremism, it will not solve the problem of radicalism or improve the secularism in the society. If secular representatives of our society are really worried and want to preserve this system, this system should be fair and effective for all members of society, not just for a certain group of businessmen and oligarchs. If the secular scenario does not prove its effectiveness, it will begin to vanish and unfortunately no one will notice. This process will become natural and no one will be able to change it artificially.

cabar.asia: What will happen in return? What alternative will we have?

Aman Saliev: The alternative won’t be a system of Islam or Christianity. This will be some absolutely new system, a mix of Islam, Christianity, and secularism. The area of influence will be revised. Some new form of relations, which we don’t know yet, can possibly emerge. We will have to develop a new system of relations. When will it happen? Maybe in 100, 200, 500 years, I don’t know.

In Kyrgyzstan, this process might start in 50 years because this is quite a cumbersome and extensive process that cannot be diverted easily. The so-called rapid measures and processes, like the revolution, have not changed anything dramatically. What has changed is the status of some group of people, they live better now, but the population at large keeps on living in the same way. I don’t think Kyrgyzstan will face some fundamental changes in the society, unlike the entire world. This will be the global tendency and we can see its seeds. These processes are painful and miserable, and these changes result in the deaths of millions people. In future, they will be qualified as the drawbacks of the secular thought.

cabar.asia: Among objective reasons for the growing religiosity in the Kyrgyz Republic, there are geopolitical projects of the Gulf States, Iran, that use Islam to strengthen their positions, particularly, in Central Asia. In your opinion, how true is that?

Aman Saliev: I think the Gulf States have had little influence here. They may have started their active campaign in Kyrgyzstan now, and it is really felt. But we should understand how it really works, how one or another religious doctrine of the Gulf States is being popularised in our country. This is a part of geopolitics. Here we speak about the Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE. You should understand that these countries are the integral part of the American security and economic systems. The monarchies of these countries don’t make geopolitical decisions without the agreement of their Washington-based partners. Both domestic and religious policies are built in such a way that religious leaders don’t say anything about the foreign policy and geopolitics unless permitted by the king.  Roughly speaking, everything is coordinated with the Western partners.

When these people bring some ideas, radical, destructive, purely terroristic, or some theological thought into our country, we should understand that in the 21st century this is geopolitics. If our society, our professional classes, our functionaries, our religious leaders don’t think and don’t understand such things at the national level, we are not safe.  To be safe, we should understand what we deal with. Those decision-making individuals and public agencies that work with these issues should have an appropriate level of competency, professionalism and perception of such things, and, above all, sense of conscience, the lack of which contributes to the unhindered implementation of radical ideas through the use of money. We should understand that people and especially functionaries, politicians engaged in this sphere should have appropriate morals, in addition to the knowledge,  in order to be able to refuse to accept some gifts or financial aid provided in  exchange for certain preferences within our society.

We should solve the radicalism issues not through the use of force or bans. We should educate the population, work with the young people, and give explanations to people. If we do these duly, we can reduce significantly the role of these radical trends in our society, within a short time. The problem is that people that popularise these [destructive] doctrines are financially motivated and have external indirect support. This is the problem.

The interview was held by Timur Toktonaliev, an IWPR editor for Kyrgyzstan. 

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