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Nurgul Esenamanova: How the concept in the religious sphere can solve the problem of radical Islam?

“The concept of state policy in the sphere of religion in Kyrgyzstan should not be viewed as the key to solving all the problems in this field, but only as part of, or even the beginning of attempts to solve the topical issues of this delicate and sensitive aspect of social life”, said Nurgul Esenamanova, a political scientist, an expert in religious security, in an article written exclusively for CABAR.

Over the years of independence, the religious situation in Kyrgyzstan has undergone drastic changes, and the main trends were outlined. To date, religious diversity has formed Kyrgyzstan that is represented by numerous denominations and different religious currents, movements and organizations.

The so-called traditional religions in the country are Sunni Islam of Hanafi school and Orthodox Christianity. The vast majority of the population consider themselves belonging to these confessions. There is also a small group of Catholics. Then there are other Islamic and Christian religious groups who came from outside after independence, but are rapidly expanding their ranks among the population.

Each of these organizations, movements, groups and ideologies in Kyrgyzstan has its followers. There one can find religious radicals, extremists and moderates. In a society, this religious diversity is perceived as a positive development, reflecting the relative freedom of religion in the country, and as a potentially dangerous factor that leads to the radicalization of certain movements, the conflict between religions and groups, as well as the ideological split in society, which is observed today in our society.

Religious situation in Kyrgyzstan should be regarded in close relationship with the geopolitical location of the country and the interests of other states, which affect the religious situation. Mainly religious influence comes from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Indian Subcontinent and from Western Europe and North America.

To date, the religious situation in Kyrgyzstan is very versatile and is constantly changing. Changes in one direction or another are generally caused by the general situation in the Muslim world, in the region and in the country. However, these changes have not yet large scale. All the religious organizations and, in particular, organizations of a radical protest-political nature, are constantly changing their tactics of work with the population. Neither public authorities, nor the experts can predict exactly what scenario will develop in the religious situation. Nevertheless, expectations and forecasts of its development are not the most optimistic.

Over the years of Kyrgyzstan’s independence, there has been no serious and clear state policy in the sphere of religion, and the President Almazbek Atambayev himself admitted it.

The consequences of these processes were:

· Penetration and development of radical ideologies among different population groups: through literature, sermons, missionaries, education of young people inside and outside the country and propaganda via the Internet;

· Stratification of Islamic society under the influence of various trends that emerged from the outside;

· Religious illiteracy, which has led to dogmatic and maximalist understanding of the principles of Islam;

· The emergence of extremist organizations, the main objective of which is to overthrow the constitutional government and the construction of a theocratic state;

· Active, sometimes obsessive desire to bring other people to their form of religion.

In this regard, the government has decided to publish a new concept of public policy in the religious sphere.

It should be noted that the first document that had attempted to regulate religious situation  was adopted in 2006. However, it was of a declarative nature and has not been fully realized in practice.

During these eight years, the situation in the religious sphere has more rapidly changed, and in 2014, a number of factors prompted the government to adopt a new concept, namely:

· The threat of loss of national identity under the influence of foreign ideologies;

· The threat of an ideological split Kyrgyz society;

· The threat of politicization of religion, the uncertainty of the role, of the vision of religion in society and politics on the part of the government;

· The lack of a clear and formal understanding of secularism;

· Questions and conflicts related in connection with proselytism;

· The success of the terrorist organizations in the Middle East in the creation of a quasi-state ISIL and active involvement of immigrants from Kyrgyzstan in this organization.

As we can see, all of the above is directly related to the threat to national security. The essence of the Concept of state policy in religious policy lies primarily in the fact that these factors have determined the position of the government in the Concept as a regulator establishing control over the religious sphere.

It should be noted that the Concept openly admits the existence of all the problems in the sphere of religion and openly stated its intention to regulate, monitor the situation and, thus, assumed responsibility for all processes in the religious sphere.

The focus of the Concept

The Concept has the following main directions of state policy in the sphere of religion:

· State policy on cooperation with religious organizations;

· State policy in the sphere of religious and religion-related education;

· Prevention of religious extremism.

Analysis of the concept showed that within it, there have been identified problem areas and the vision of their solution. One of the main ideas of the Concept of the state policy in the sphere of religion is “Vision and principles of state regulation of the religious sphere in accordance with the national interests of the Kyrgyz Republic” [1]. This means that the main principle in the state regulation of the religious sphere should be the national interests of the Kyrgyz Republic and, on this basis, the government seeks to control religion. National interests of Kyrgyzstan in the modern period, as well as in the long term, are:

– Territorial integrity of the country;

– Economic independence and dignity of citizens;

– Cultural identity;

– Constantly evolving intelligence of the nation;

– Management system corresponding to the global and the local situation

– Healthy and educated nation “[2].

The concept reflects the basic principles of the national interests of the Kyrgyz Republic. On the basis of the above national interests, the concept is focusing on the following key points:

Official understanding of secularism. The concept has given a formal understanding of the secular state based on the principle of separation of functions of state agencies and religious organizations [3].

Model of the relationship between the government and religion. The concept states that “Kyrgyzstan creates a model of a secular democratic state with a predominantly Muslim population in the Central Asian region through effective state regulation of the religious sphere and increase in the level of cooperation between public authorities and civil society, especially religious organizations and associations” [4].

Hanafi madhab. The concept emphasizes the special role of Hanafism in the cultural and historical development of the Kyrgyz Republic; stating that the government creates conditions for its strengthening and development.

State intervention in the activities of religious organizations. The concept states that will adhere to the principle of secularism, non-interference in the activities inside the confessional religious organizations, “except in cases of violation of the legislation of the Kyrgyz Republic, it is necessary to specify the scope of activities of religious organizations” [5].

Education. The concept provides for religious studies, improvement of religious education. Also it provides for implementation of certification, standardization and unification of curricula [6].

Licensing religious educational institutions. In the religious sphere of education, there will be licensing of religious educational institutions for the purpose of: unification of training programs to prevent the radical contents of the curriculum and the practice of radical ideologies.

Education in foreign religious schools. The concept proposed “Analysis of foreign religious educational institutions, which educate the citizens of Kyrgyzstan, informing citizens about the appropriateness of training in these institutions”. [7]

Professional development. In order to improve the level of quality of education of the clergy and education of civil servants, the Concept provides for education of the clergy: the creation of a system of centralized training with the involvement of religious and theological faculties, departments of universities and government agencies of the Republic; civil servants: the implementation of educational programs for public servants in religious issues [8].

Preventing extremism. Regarding extremism, the Concepts in almost all paragraphs mentioned different aspects, the main channels of influence of extremism and risk groups; it also pays special attention to prevention, noting that it should be “focused on educational and outreach activities, analyzing and eliminating the causes of radicalization” [ 9].

Setting clear criteria and expertise in determining the extremist materials, extremists, etc. One of the main problems is the criteria that determine the status of materials, speeches and recognition as extremist. The concept envisages the development of clear criteria and transparent procedures for religious and theological expertise, as well as providing mechanisms for the protection of experts [10].

Information security. Particular attention is paid to information security and identification of measures to ensure it. The following measures are proposed: “Development of a methodological framework to promote information campaigns in the media and social media, constructive discourse about religion by creating an alternative to radical extremist discourse in the information field to expose the manipulative methods of destructive and extremist propaganda” [11].

Implementation of this concept in practice

There is no doubt that Kyrgyzstan needs a serious and effective instrument, capable to solve the basic problems in the religious sphere, and this Concept covers all the necessary aspects.

Nevertheless, on the basis of a number of reasons, it is likely that this Concept can remain at the level of declarative document, or at least, not all the tasks set out in it will be achieved. First of all, this is due to the following problems:

§  The main obstacle to the implementation of the document can be an elementary lack of funds. Due to financial difficulties experienced by the country each year, as well as the ever-growing inflation, the expected increase in the price upon the entry into the EEU questions the possibility of self-financing of the Concept. Perhaps, the government will attract various donors for its implementation. However, the question arises whether the government can systematically find and attract funds for the implementation of all points of the Concept from 2015 to 2020. Especially, taking into account that the budget for 2015 has been determined, and there are no means for implementing this Concept.

§  Lack of qualified specialists on religion in public institutions that can effectively and, at the same time, carefully, without conflict perform tasks of the Concept. The problem here lies in the fact that government officials can overdo it in the implementation of the Concept, thinking that they are based on the principle of national security. Moreover, there is a risk that Kyrgyz authorities may follow the path of other post-Soviet countries, whose policies in the religious sphere is different in that they apply strict state control and methods of repression against religious organizations or movements, eliminating unwanted authorities and officials members of the clergy. Any rigid attitude on the part of the government to the existing legal, moderate religious organizations may lead to their radicalization. There must be a balance between state security and the rights of religious denominations.

§  Fear, mistrust of all religious organizations with regard to the new changes that will arise in the implementation of the Concept. This is due to the fact that during the years of independence, religious organizations used to exist and conduct their activities in the liberal environment, where each organization had presented itself, and there were no major requirements for their activities. In this context, any change in the legislation and implementation of new concepts in practice causes concern among religious organizations. For example, in part 1 (7 line) “the government provides for state interference in the activities inside the confessional religious organizations in the cases provided by law. “ However, this point can be interpreted very broadly “[12].

§  One of the key issues on which draws attention to the Concept is a problem of Muslim radicalization Radical extremist organizations are doing the main emphasis on the ideological basis of their work, promoting it through all available channels of communication, the media such as the Internet, as well as working in a variety of social structures of local communities, by manipulating the consciousness of believers. Extremists are working with the verses of the Quran, Hadith . They often distort the sense by interpreting them to achieve their narrow political purposes, justifying and legitimizing their aggressive, violent acts and discrediting Islam as a religion. In this regard, in the Concept, there is a just focus of ideological counter: it says that the state information policy should be based on “the development of a methodological framework for the promotion of information campaigns in the media and social media, the constructive discourse about religion by creating an alternative to the radical extremist discourse in information field to expose the manipulative methods of destructive and extremist propaganda; Consideration in the transition to digital broadcasting as a priority support media projects to create scientific and educational, training programs, aimed at expanding the horizons of audience, promoting the idea of a secular multi-religious society, civic identity and legal culture, programs dedicated to the history of world religions, discussion transmission; “[13].

· In view of the socio-economic, geopolitical and political conditions of Kyrgyzstan, ideological information, education against the spread of violent extremism ideas are the most effective. The above planned measures in the Concept are the most appropriate and meet the existing challenges in the religious sphere, the implementation of which can stop religious extremism by 50-60% oin the current conditions of the Kyrgyz Republic.

  • It is important to unite the efforts of religious organizations, experts, researchers, policy makers, civil society activists, civil society and NGOs against the propaganda of extremist ideas. In this context, a positive aspect of the Concept is the joint counter-action of the government and the religious community against destructive religious movements and their activities.
  • All of the above noted possible problems that may arise in the implementation are related to the issues of training and effective management. Special attention should be paid to the continuity of staff of the State Commission for Religious Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic in the implementation of the Concept and continuing the work that started within the previous framework by the leaders in the implementation of the Concept. Thus, the successful implementation of all planned activities in the Concept will depend on the personnel,  on public officials who are responsible for its implementation, on their competence, tolerance, etc.

Changes in legislation

After the meeting of the Defense Council in February 2014, which was devoted to the religious situation in Kyrgyzstan, there were formed four groups responsible for the beginning of reforms in this area. One of them is a group on amendments and additions to the legislative acts of the Republic.

This group initiated amendments to the law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations in the Kyrgyz Republic”, which were written in parallel with the Concept. This fact is in some way is a contradiction, since the laws should be written after the adoption of the Concept and be based on its main provisions. [14]

The majority opinion of the expert community is that the above bill is not aimed at combating extremism; it can provoke law-abiding moderate religious organizations to leave for “underground” and lead to radicalization, as a result, the government will receive uncontrolled underground religious organizations.

For example, the position of missionary work in the new bill raises many questions. The bill says: “The persistent prohibited actions aimed at converting believers of one religion into another (proselytism), as well as any illegal missionary activity (dissemination of religion), including in public places (streets, boulevards, public transport), visiting apartments, child care centers, schools and higher education institutions. Persons found guilty of violating this rule shall be liable under the legislation of the Kyrgyz Republic. “

This paragraph may also lead to the fact that moderate movements may become uncontrolled and creates conditions for their possible radicalization. For example, the main principle of Tabligh Jamaat movement is davaat – a call to faith, but the bill states that missionary work is prohibited in public places. This means that the movement will go underground, and the process will be even more difficult to control. The majority of competent experts and law enforcement officials agree that this bill is not aimed at combating extremism and has no control over their activities, but rather pushes all legal, moderate organizations and movements underground and makes their work unsupervised. For example, radical, extremist organizations are never engaged in missionary work and do not use those methods, which are set out in the new bill. In this regard, even the adoption of the new law is questioned.


• The primary problem that requires immediate solution is religious education. The big question is the ability of the Ministry of Education and Science of KR to use a professional approach to the licensing process of religious education centers. In this regard, it is necessary to open the Department of Religious Education at the MES KR [15] involving theologians, religious scholars and representatives of the expert community;

• The government officials should not share the desire to establish a repressive control over religious organizations, which act within the law; they should distance themselves from the “secular extremism”. Willingness of officials to see religion as a social partner, the intention to hear religious organizations and the pursuit of joint problem solving are necessary;

• Pay attention to the improvement of relations between religious faiths and groups, organizing dialogue platforms;

• It is necessary to organize equitable and just partnership interaction of state bodies, local law enforcement agencies, religious organizations, civil society and other stakeholders to address the problems in the religious sphere;

• For the effective implementation of the Concept, it is necessary to consider the ethnic factor, i.e. a differentiated approach to work with the ethnic and regional characteristics;

• Analysis of the concept showed that its focus is on education and information work. In this context, the implementation of this paragraph should not imply the dispute with radicals, but rather it should be the work in the discourse about the positive nature of religion, creating an ideological alternative information field to the ideology of extremism.

Both government and religious organizations need to understand that while working on the implementation of the Concept, they should be aimed at dialogue rather than confrontation, to be ready to jointly address problems.

We also need to recognize that the Concept in the present circumstances cannot give a full guarantee that the radicalization of society will stop, and extremist organizations will disappear forever. This document in some way may prevent mass radicalization, but it is hardly possible without comprehensive measures, which include not only advocacy, but also long-term educational work with different groups and ideological recharge.

Unfortunately, all the high ideas of the concept will not find realization in life without effective operation of the government, namely in solving social and economic problems, without increasing and enriching the educational component and without legal justice.

Therefore, the concept of state policy in the sphere of religion in Kyrgyzstan should not be viewed as the key to solving all the problems in this field, but only as part of, or even the beginning of attempts to solve the topical issues of this delicate and sensitive aspect of social life, the success of which will depend on the comprehensive approach of the authorities of the country.

Nurgul Esenamanova, PhD in political science, Acting Associate Professor of the Kyrgyz State Law Academy.

Opinion of the author may not necessarily represent those of CABAR

[1] The Concept of state policy of the Kyrgyz Republic in the religious sphere for 2014-2020. Part I. 1.1. p-3.

[2] National Security Concept of the Kyrgyz Republic // site of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Kyrgyz республики : http://www.mil.kg/component/content/article/49-koncepcija-nacionalnoj-bezopasnostikyrgyzskoj-respubliki.html

[3] The Concept of state policy of the Kyrgyz Republic in the religious sphere for 2014-2020. Part I. 1.1. P-6.

[4] The Concept of state policy of the Kyrgyz Republic in the religious sphere for 2014-2020. Part I. 1.1. P.5.

[5] The Concept of state policy of the Kyrgyz Republic in the religious sphere for 2014-2020. II. MAIN AREAS of religious policy. 2.1. The purpose and objectives of the state policy in the sphere of religion. Scope of activities of religious organizations. P. 16.

[6] PP. 23-24.

[7] The Concept of state policy of the Kyrgyz Republic in the religious sphere for 2014-2020. P. 25.

[8] The Concept of state policy of the Kyrgyz Republic in the religious sphere for 2014-2020. P.19.

[9] The Concept of state policy of the Kyrgyz Republic in the religious sphere for 2014-2020. II. MAIN AREAS of religious policy. P. 29.

[10] The Concept of state policy of the Kyrgyz Republic in the religious sphere for 2014-2020. II. MAIN AREAS of religious policy. P. 30.

[11] P. 21

[12] From an interview with the director of the public association “Inter-Religious Council in Kyrgyzstan” Galina Kolodzinskaya.

[13] The Concept of state policy of the Kyrgyz Republic in the religious sphere for 2014-2020. II. MAIN AREAS of religious policy. 2.1. The purpose and objectives of the state policy in the sphere of religion. P. 21.

[14] From an interview with an expert D. Muradilov

[15] From an interview with an expert D. Muradilov

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