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KYRGYZSTAN. The Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan, formerly known as Kirghizia, stretches from the Pamirs to the Tian Shan. Its geographical features include the Pobeda Peak, Issyk Kul, the Naryn, Chu, and Talas Rivers, and the Ferghana Valley. Historically, the Kyrgyz, an ancient Turkic people, were a major power along the Yenisei River, where they had developed a “runic” script and established an elaborate civilization. After the Mongol onslaught, they moved west and became mountain-dwelling pastoral nomads in the grasslands of the Tian Shan. During the eighteenth century, influenced by Muslim traders and Sunni Uzbeks, they accepted Islam. Their past is celebrated in the great Kyrgyz epic, the Manas.

Kyrgyzstan was incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1876. Thereafter, Russian peasants routinely displaced the Kyrgyz and confiscated their grazing lands. In 1916, pressured by shortages at the front, Tsar Nicholas II drafted Kyrgyz youth into the army. The decision set off revolts throughout Muslim Central Asia, resulting in the death of many Kyrgyz; many more fled to eastern Turkistan.

In the 1920S the Basmachi movement, which advocated national independence and the return of the waqf (religious endowment) lands was crushed, and the Kyrgyz were forced to abandon their nomadic lifestyle. In the 1930s the Jadidist movement, which sought Turkish unity and modernization of Islam, met with a similar end. In both cases, the Muslim intellectuals who had advocated the reforms were liquidated. After 1937 all the manifestations of the Kyrgyz past celebrated in the Manas were dissolved in efforts toward collectivization and industrialization. Mosques and madrasahs masqueraded as museums and opera houses, while programs of sovietization and russification dominated Kyrgyz education. The Arabic script gave way to Latin and then to Cyrillic. Eventually Russian became the state language. The shari `ah and the `adat legal codes were replaced by the Soviet civil code, and prayers, death rituals, pilgrimages, and circumcisions were outlawed. Even Islamic marriages, including the traditional practice of kalym (bride price) and ichkari (confinement of women to their quarters), were forbidden.


Today Kyrgyzstan has a population of 4,590,000 (55 percent Muslim), made up of Kyrgyz, Russians, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, and Germans; the highest birthrate occurs among the Kyrgyz. The republic has established a democratic government and is instituting a market economy. Through privatization, the state-held enterprises are being divided among small concerns in the public sector. Agriculture, livestock raising, mining, and manufacturing are also being privatized. While this process might inspire unrest elsewhere, the political stability stemming from the curtailment of communist power in Kyrgystan may help it succeed. The recent referendum, empowering President Asghar Akayev to implement extensive reforms, is proof that the Kyrgyz are determined to effect change in their republic. This, of course, is not a new phenomenon; intellectuals like Chingiz Aitmatov have advocated political, cultural, and economic reforms since the late 1960s.

Islam in Central Asia must be understood within a north-south geographic orientation. In Kazakhstan the influence of Islam is slight; Alma-Ata, the republic’s capital, has only one mosque located in the bazaar district, and the population is virtually unaware of its existence. Conversely, in Tajikistan, a southern republic, Muslim groups actively rehabilitate mosques, open madrasahs, and teach the Qur’an. However, since the November 1992 civil war and the introduction of antiWahhabi measures resulting in a factional bloodbath, the general goodwill for Islam has noticeably diminished. Furthermore, Tajikistan’s gradual domination by Russia-Tajikistan is now in the ruble zone; is heavily in debt to Russian; lacks skilled cadres, raw material, and parts for its factories; and the 201st Russian division defends its southern border-has led to the sociopolitical and economic unification of three of Tajikistan’s Turkic neighbors: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. While all those states pay lip service to Islam, on their way to Pan-Turkism, they control their Muslim groups very firmly. This is particularly true of Uzbekistan.

Islam in Kyrgyzstan is influenced both by the Kazakh conservativism reflected in the speeches of Imam Ratbek Nisanbayev, and by Tajik extremism. In the capital Bishkek, in the north, Islam is taking its first steps, while in Osh, on the edge of the Ferghana, many young people are finding their salvation in Islam. They perform the rituals and attend the mosque. The urban faithful, however, are only a fraction of the main body of Kyrgyz devotees of the rural south, where Imam Abdulmajid Qari and the chief Islamic judge of the republic, Abdulrahman Kimsenbayev, expend most of their energies. As a result of their efforts, today Kyrgyzstan has more than two hundred mosques whereas in 1985 it had only forty. By the end of 1992, Bishkek alone was scheduled to add six more mosques to its existing four. Kyrgyzstan also has two madrasahs, the Bishkek Islamic Seminary and the Qara Qul Seminary.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia provide funds for many Islamic activities in Kyrgyzstan, including the organization of pilgrimages to Mecca, the acquisition of books for instruction in Islam, and the building of mosques and madrasahs.

[See also Basmachis; Islam, article on Islam in Central Asia and the Caucasus; Jadidism.]


Allworth, Edward, ed. Soviet Nationality Problems. New York and Boston, 1971.

Allworth, Edward, ed. Central Asia: One Hundred and Twenty Years of Russian Rule. Durham, N.C., and London, 1989. Gives an overall view of the social, cultural, and economic dynamics of the republics.

Bennigsen, Alexandre, and Marie Broxup. The Islamic Threat to the Soviet State. New York, 1983. History of Russian and Soviet interactions with the Muslims of Central Asia from the Mongol invasion to the present.

Bennigsen, Alexandre, and S. Enders Wimbush. Muslims of the Soviet Empire: A Guide. Bloomington, 1986. Provides vital information for all the republics, especially about their Muslim peoples.

Fierman, William, ed. Soviet Central Asia: The Failed Transformation. Boulder, 1991.

Hatto, A. T., ed. The Memorial Feast for Kokotoy Khan: A Kirgiz Epic Poem. London, 1977. The best portrayal of Kyrgyz nomadic lifestyle before sovietization.

Massell, Gregory. The Surrogate Proletariat: Moslem Women and Revolutionary Strategies in Soviet Central Asia, 1919-1929. Excellent study of the role of women in the integration of Muslim Central Asia into the Soviet system.

Olcott, Martha. “Central Asia: The Reformers Challenge a Traditional Society.” In The Nationalities Factor: Soviet Politics and Society, edited by Lubomyr Hajda and Mark Beissinger, pp. 253-280. Boulder, 1990. Comprehensive overview of social, political, and cultural issues in Central Asian republics in recent years.

Rywkin, Michael. Moscow’s Muslim Challenge: Soviet Central Asia. New York, 1982. Examines the effectiveness of Moscow’s policies for the Central Asian republics.

Shahrani, M. Nazif. The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan: Adaptation to Closed Frontiers. Seattle and London, 1979. Good study of the struggle of the displaced Kyrgyz and the odds of their survival in a changing world.



Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/kyrgyzstan/

  • writerPosted On: July 28, 2014
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