“The believers think that if a politician is close to religion, he is definitely honest, fair and not a thief, not engaged in corruption, so people vote for him during elections. If people get more literate, politicians will have to deal with it and will stop deceiving people over time,” Chubak azhy Zhalilov, a former mufti of Kyrgyzstan, said to cabar.asia.
cabar.asia: How much does the Islamization of the population influence the public policy and politicians?
Chubak azhy Zhalilov: It influences much because politicians always want to take every opportunity, every chance. It has never happened before, but it was clear at the recent parliamentary elections, and I think that playing on the feelings of believers will be evident in the upcoming presidential and later parliamentary races. For example, I think there will be attempts to win the votes through the use of religious figures. This will definitely influence the on-going processes because if it wasn’t for Islam, there would be other nationally-important direction [to get benefit] that would be used by politicians.
Everything is connected with the politics. How faithful politicians are is another question. For example, the difference between neighbouring Kazakhstan and our country is that in Kazakhstan the political elites are closer to religion, while here ordinary people are closer to religion. The same order was in the time of the Prophet, and I want to note that the public support ensures reliability. So we can say that a country where ordinary people rather than the political elite seek the religion has the true religion.
CABAR.asia: Do the believers understand that politicians use them for their own purposes?
Chubak azhy Zhalilov: I think many people don’t understand it because they think that if a politician is close to religion, he is definitely honest, fair and not a thief, not engaged in corruption, so people vote for him during elections. However, there have been no cases when a mullah or preacher would call for voting using his status. Despite the great efforts by the politicians, they have no results.
CABAR.asia: What can be the result of the use of Islam in the politics of the Kyrgyz Republic?
Chubak azhy Zhalilov: The Islam will not suffer from this, but the deceived Muslims will suffer for the next 5-10 years. The politicians will suffer because they will be held accountable before the God for their deceit. According to Sharia law, the double-face people will be thrown into the fire of hell. I think, however, this is a natural phenomenon because religious education of people is low, they cannot distinguish black from white.
I keep telling that no one should trust words. We should always look at the personal history, life journey, and see if they correspond with his words. If they do, then we can trust him. Otherwise, we should not trust and we should wait for 5 more years. We should vote for those who can be trusted. I always tell about it. If people get more literate, politicians will have to deal with it and will stop deceiving people over time.
CABAR.asia: Is it enough to be religious for a good politician and official?
Chubak azhy Zhalilov: No, it’s not enough. If a politician is a believer, it’s good because every time he votes he will be thinking about his accountability before the God and will always think about the state, future of the people, will not encourage deceit and corruption. Yet this is not enough to know what law is useful or harmful for the people; politicians should be smart and knowledgeable.
It would be wrong if we vote for a member of the clergy for his good conscience, but who has no education and expertise. Therefore, we need to keep the balance of piety and professionalism.
CABAR.asia: Some Muslims think that if a really religious person comes to power, the country will face order and justice and the economy will grow. Is there a relation between these two things?
It would be good if it was a real Muslim and a good specialist. But if there are two candidates with equally good knowledge in politics, economics, foreign policy, we would like to see a more religious candidate elected because this person would never steal, or desire for something that doesn’t belong to him, would treat everyone equally and would never flee the country. If a person is just a believer and has no respective knowledge, this person should not be elected.
It was spread earlier that I was going to run for president. Journalists wrote that a member of the clergy could not be a president; a mullah should remain a mullah. I want to ask, why a person with theological knowledge cannot be a president, while a physicist or a chemist can? We should think about it in the right way. But it does not mean that if a mullah comes to power, he will be able to work well. There may be those among them who would pursue the wrong policy, go in the wrong direction or would not know anything in politics, and such persons should not be allowed to power.
At the recent parliamentary elections, almost all political parties made offers to me, but I preferred to refuse them all. Why? If I chose any party, then…I noticed that other parties started to involve other religious figures. I refused to get involved into the process to avoid mullahs from other movements coming to the parliament and telling wrong things from the parliament stand. […] Our citizens don’t understand yet the religion and follow their feelings, superficial senses. I wouldn’t want [hasty votes at the elections].
CABAR.asia: Do other religious activists wishing to be engaged in politics understand the consequences of their decisions?
Chubak azhy Zhalilov: No, they might not understand it. They can use all opportunities and do their best to come to power. A person has weaknesses wherever he is.
CABAR.asia: According to the Muslims, what a perfect state should be like?
Chubak azhy Zhalilov: Some think that following the canons of Islam means to erase the past and start all over again. For example, once there was a prominent teacher Ali Al-Tantawi who said, “I was in Europe and saw Islam there, but I didn’t see Muslims.” Because purity, order, observance of laws are what Islam requires. “I was in the Arabic world and saw Muslims, but I didn’t see Islam,” he said. And he said the right things because we (citizens, politicians, the state itself) misuse the Islam in practice, misunderstand it.
CABAR.asia: A state is an entity that serves the public, people. If the society in Kyrgyzstan contains mainly citizens who believe in Islam and are dedicated to it, can we expect any changes in the operation of the state itself? Will some of its secular principles be weakened?
Chubak azhy Zhalilov: It’s possible because our politicians always follow the people. It’s politicians who must lead the people, but here it’s different. Our politicians go anywhere people want to go. They say whatever the people want to hear. But a politician should be strong enough to lead the people. Only then the politics will be right.
It doesn’t mean that, as some people believe, we will start wearing Pakistani clothing. I believe that a good Muslim country would be the country where we live now, but with no place for corruption, theft, violence. There would be justice in law, freedom of speech and religion. In a Muslim country, everyone should have a religious freedom. In brief, a Muslim country is a place where everyone has rights and freedoms, and where no one encroaches on the rights of individuals.
The point is not that all citizens must pray namaz. It’s possible that those Muslims who don’t pray namaz and orthodox Christians can live side by side. This is the definition we can give. That’s why I say that modern Kyrgyzstan is the best state for the Islam. If we look at other states, many aspects of the perfect Islamic state can be found in Malaysia and Singapore.
CABAR.asia: When will the Islamization in Kyrgyzstan start turning into quality?
Chubak azhy Zhalilov: It takes time. Do you remember Duishon from the Aitmatov’s “First Teacher”? We are now like Duishon: Abdyshukur Narmatov is Duishon, Chubak azhy is Duishon, Maksat azhy is Duishon.
We teach religion to people, explain its essence to them because the history shows that those who were religious didn’t become bad and we could preserve our nation. We might do some things wrong, but we think otherwise. But I think that everything would be fine over time, just like in the story of Duishon. There’s a good Kyrgyz proverb, “People regenerate once in 50 years, and land regenerates once in 100 years.” I think everything would be as it should be in a quarter of a century.
For example, the Islam that was 10 years ago and the today’s Islam in our country are two different things.
If we used to think that a Muslim must wear long loose trousers, now we think he can wear some modern clothes. In the past, we could identify the community of the believer by his clothes: a Salaphite, davaatchy, etc. Today it’s difficult to identify the religious movement by clothing because it’s not about the clothing, but about the heart, soul and mind of every individual. I think people understand it well now. In the past, the Muslims didn’t give school education to their children, and now there are Muslims who send their children to Oxford, Cambridge. I think now we are facing the process of shift from quantity to quality.
The interview was held by Timur Toktonaliev, an IWPR editor for Kyrgyzstan.