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Kyrgyzstan: Religious Education Still Unarranged

The Muslim community reaps the fruits of religious education at the local level.

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This article was prepared together by IWPR Central Asia and Radio Azattyk. The original story is available here.

Students of a madrasah in Batken region. Photo: muftiyat.kg

The concept that sets forth the state policy in religious sphere for 2014 to 2020 raises a question of arranging the process of sending students abroad for study. Despite this 6-year-long issue, the young people still choose foreign religious institutions on their own and do not know who will sponsor their studies.

After getting education abroad, many of them become imams upon their return to Kyrgyzstan. As each of them has their own religious views, which they convey within the community, they tend to split the community over time.

The clergy that received education in various foreign educational institutions, their promiscuous followers and their influence on the religious situation in the country cause many comments in the society.

Traditional theologians say the process of sending young people abroad for study is still unarranged, and religious communities secretly confront each other in their desire to influence the public outlook, which causes the split in the society.

“Graduates from abroad are not registered”

The campus of the Islamic University in Pakistan. Photo: arabnews.com

The number of students wanting to get religious education abroad has increased since the first days of independence.

Many religious people who practise Islam have received religious education at the universities of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Malaysia, Jordan, Pakistan.

Others have attended either 4-month or yearlong courses in India or Bangladesh. Usually, such courses are attended when people do Dawah (Islamic sermons) in mosques and madrasahs of those countries.

However, no one can tell the exact number of people who got education in universities or attended courses abroad.

The head of the academic department of the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Kyrgyzstan, Akim Ergeshov, said there is no exact statistics about the students who studied religion abroad from the muftiate, and it is impossible to control who teaches students abroad and how they do it.

“It is not our responsibility to control those who study abroad. You should consult the State Commission for Religious Affairs. We do not have the statistics. In general, every student goes to a Muslim country for study on their own.

We cannot ask them where exactly they are going to study,” Akim Ergeshov said. “If they go abroad from the muftiate, we give them recommendations. However, we are not responsible for all those who leave our country. Our law does not specify it. About 30 students took student assignments from us to study in foreign universities.

They mainly leave for Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. These countries control the educational process. However, when our students study abroad, we cannot control them.”

Neither the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Kyrgyzstan, nor the State Commission for Religious Affairs, nor the Ministry of Interior Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic has exact information about the number of students who study religion abroad at universities or short-term courses.

Deputy head of the State Commission for Religious Affairs Zakir Chotaev said that students who leave abroad for study are not registered as there is no legal basis for that:

Zakir Chotaev. Photo: who.ca-news.org

“All those who want to get religious education abroad do not need our permission. This is not set forth in the law. Previously, there had been a presidential decree about the approval of study abroad.

However, it is not valid as the Constitution reads that every citizen has a right to travel both within and outside the country. Therefore, we do not have a register of people who study abroad. In most cases, they leave the country on their own.

Usually, those who want to study abroad find scholarships via religious institutions of Kyrgyzstan and go abroad with their assistance. We have no information about the number and the universities where Kyrgyzstani students study. Sometimes, we ask this information from the ministry of interior affairs.

But they say they do not maintain a consular register and they have no exact data as well,” Chotaev said.

The recently held investigation showed that recently many young people leave abroad to study religion upon private invitations and with financial support of unknown persons.

Traditional followers confirm this alarming trend. They noted that no one listens to them when they suggest that the state should make agreements with foreign universities that provide quality and adequate education and should send students there.

Traditional theologians are also concerned about the fact that a difference in religious education and actions of the so-called clerics lead to a split in the views of religious canons.

“A split among religious schools”

Former cadi of Dzhalal Abad region Dilmurat Orozov related the increased number of mosques for Friday prayers to “diverse” views of imams that graduated from various religious universities, which leads to the internal split:

Dilmurat Orozov. Photo: a screenshot of the video posted on Channel 7

“Those guys that study abroad not only get education there, but also adopt behaviour, traditions and customs of those countries and introduce them in our country afterwards.

However, these things are strange to us and lead to numerous disputes. Once the chair of the Dzhalal Abad city council wondered if “it’s true that the mosques cannot hold all the believers if 13 new mosques opened for the Friday prayer after I left my post.” In the past, there were only 4 mosques.

I said, “the mosques are enough, the imams feel confined in them.” Now two imams have different outlooks. It’s easier for them to open a new mosque for Friday prayers rather than try to understand each other.

The cadi that came after me issued permissions for building and opening mosques for Friday prayers. Now, we have about 15 mosques for Friday prayers and about 15 imams. They studied in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Turkey. Sometimes, they can interpret the same issue differently.

Every imam has his own opinion of the issue. Every clergy has their own followers. Thus, the path to truth becomes more difficult and distant,” Dilmurat Orozov said.

Religious situation in the country was discussed at the session of the Security Council of the Kyrgyz Republic in 2016. Back then, they raised a question of implementation of the Concept of national policy of religion adopted in 2014. The main point of the concept was the adjustment of the process of sending young people to foreign religious institutions for study. 

“No control”

Deputy mufti Zamir Rakiev said they know the approximate number of students and academic fields despite the lack of registration of students leaving abroad for religious study. He also added that there are managers who can control the academic process of young people:

“The majority of students, nearly 500 people, study in Egypt. Our students also study in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Malaysia. When our mufti visits those countries, he meets our students who study in Islamic universities there and asks them to keep to the hanafi school, the maturidi (one of the philosophic directions of Islam).

Currently, there are positive changes in the study of our students. We always say to them they should not adopt foreign traditions and customs when they study abroad, but keep to the hanafi school in Islam. Moreover, there are reliable, experienced and educated people in Egypt who had studied here.

They communicate with our current students abroad and take care of them. In Saudi Arabia, we also have reliable contacts who take care of our students. We are doing all these things to avoid any problems when they come back,” Zamir Rakiev said.

How traditional school was “pushed aside” 

Traditional clergy note that a Bukhara school used to be very influential in Central Asia and taught the Khanafi and Maturidi. It is different from other schools as it rejects any idea of violence and confrontation and calls for tolerance and mutual understanding.

According to Dilmurat Orozov, even if our students abroad do not adopt the ideas of extremism or radicalism, they still “import” traditions, culture and religion of other countries, and Kyrgyzstan fails to implement the religious policy that is meant to unite them.

“The graduates of foreign universities try to transfer the model, traditions and customs of those countries where they studied to our country.  Those who studied in Pakistan want Kyrgyzstan to develop like Pakistan. Those who studied in Turkey want Kyrgyzstan to become like Turkey. The same situation is with the graduates from Saudi Arabia. This is the current trend,” Dilmurat Orozov said.

“The art” of attracting to studying abroad

Discussion of religious education in Kyrgyzstan organised by Bulan Institute research centre. Photo: religion.gov.kg

The studies held by Bulan Institute note high risk of involvement of young men from Kyrgyzstan who go abroad to study religion into the networks of radical extremist organisations and getting education in universities where the concept of religion is distorted.

Thus, Pakistan was reported as having the overwhelming majority of unregistered madrasahs that are related to such religious movements as Tablighi Jamaat and Ahl al-Hadith.

The report read that Punjab state has madrasahs, mosques, extremist printing houses and religious political organisations that are related to the Ahl al-Hadith community.

Former deputy chair of the State National Security Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic, Marat Imankulov, told about the methods of recruitment to such religious organisations:

“No wonder many young people who left Kyrgyzstan stay in foreign countries. We know they left because they were recruited and financed by certain people.

Many private funds and organisations work unofficially. Who is behind them? Why do they send young people to study abroad? State bodies have no relevant information in this regard. Authorised agencies learn about such students only when they come back. In the past, we received information about how our students who study religion abroad get into various extremist organisations.

It was found out that such organisations paid scholarships and travel costs to students.  In fact, young people want to study abroad in good faith. However, they are deceived, deprived of their passports and recruited into extremist organisations, which they can never leave,” said Marat Imankulov, former deputy chair of the State National Security Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic.

However, some theologians do not agree that such problems are caused by secret funding. It is not possible to acknowledge officially information about such private funds and agencies that send young people abroad for the study of religion. Their sources of financing are unknown as well.


Deputy mufti Zamir Rakiev noted that they know the sponsors that send young people abroad and their sources of financing are not suspicious:

Zamir Rakiev. Photo: muftiyat.kg

“Individuals who are the citizens of our country may also finance the studies of young people. Some people want to commit charitable deeds by helping young people to get education abroad, and they are ready to pay the costs of three-four, or even ten, young men.

However, we cannot interfere in such deeds. It’s up to them. Many people do not want to demonstrate their deeds. There are students in Egypt who get scholarship from prominent theologians.

For example, a Kuwait theologian Al Bagdin living in Egypt helps many students with money. Many of our students received scholarships from him. There are students who receive scholarships from charity funds. There are scholarships from charity funds founded by former muftis.

In Saudi Arabia, there’s no need in such sponsors as students there receive scholarships in the amount of 250-300 dollars. This money is more than enough for study,” Zamir Rakiev said.

Suspicious training centres

Marat Imankulov. Photo: azattyk.kg

At the same time, Marat Imankulov, former director of Anti-terrorist Centre at the State National Security Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic and secretary of the Security Council of the Kyrgyz Republic, said that the intelligence service of the Kyrgyz Republic reported underground training religious centres in the mountainous region of Pakistan – North Waziristan and Afghanistan – that teach not only religion but military training to students.

According to him, these underground centres are controlled and financed by extremist and terrorist groups and turned into training bases for future “mujahideen”.

Marat Imankulov added that according to latest information, people from Central Asia, including Kyrgyzstan, were admitted to such training centres:

“There was information that such training religious organisations held acting trainings. Although, this is not a part of their curricula. When I was holding my previous post, I used to talk to our Pakistani colleagues from time to time.

Back then, they told me “our citizens studied at various private educational institutions and no one knew what they were doing there in fact and urged me to pay attention to this issue.” There were many cases when students became militants influenced by various groups.”

Markaz Dawa ul-Irshad madrasah in the city of Muridke, Pakistan, is known to teach students the art of politics, trade and military art during the educational process.

Therefore, experts in religion say that there is a reason for concern as some students who study religion abroad get involved into the Salafi movement under the influence of communities who are committed to radical takfiris or other groups that have similar ideas.

Just recently, the muftiate of Kyrgyzstan began to send students to foreign religious universities. In addition to Arabic countries and Pakistan, it establishes contacts with the universities of Bashkiria and Tatarstan.

In 2018-19 academic year, the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Kyrgyzstan sent 15 Kyrgyzstani students to Kazan and Ufa for study.

This publication was produced under IWPR project «Forging links and raising voices to combat radicalization in Central Asia».

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