By Erkin Ahmadov (10/17/2007 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Last week was marked by extensive celebrations of Ed-al-Fitr (Ramazan Hait) in all Muslim states of the world. Central Asian states were no exception to these festivities, as Islam is the predominant religion in all states of the region. In Uzbekistan, the religious holiday that was declared to be a public day off by a presidential decree, underwent a number of tight regulations.

Ramazan Hait or Uraza Bayram is the holiday of breaking the fast after one month of various physical constraints. During this month, it is believed, Muslims are free of their earthily needs and may dedicate themselves to the God and their spiritual development.

This year the date of the beginning and end of the holy month of Ramadan was a subject of much speculation in all Muslim countries. The clergy and astrologists could not establish when the new moon appeared, which marks the beginning of the month and thus the beginning of fasting for practicing Muslims.

In Uzbekistan, the holy month officially started on September 12. Just a couple of days before breaking the fast, president Islam Karimov introduced a resolution “On Celebration of Ramazan Hait” adopted in accordance with a presidential decree from 27 March, 1992. For many the resolution manifested respect to provisions of freedom of conscience and confession. Moreover, in light of present discussion, it is interesting to note that Tashkent was announced the capital of Muslim culture in 2007 by the Organization of the Islamic Conference on Issues of Education, Science and Culture.

However, in the beginning of September, heads of regional religious organizations were introduced to the new order of Muslims’ Spiritual Administration of Uzbekistan that regulated conduct during the holy month of Ramadan in the regions of the republic.

First, ten-day readings of Koran (“Hatm-ul-Kuran”) were to be held in the central mosques of Uzbekistan. All the heads of the mosques were forbidden to preach during the night prayers (“tarovih”), and were obliged to close all the ceremonies before 10 p.m. After this, every leader was supposed to report to his regional administrator on the conduct of the procedure and inform on whether there were any incidents. Only after this could the cleric go home.

In such regions of Uzbekistan as Namangan, where the threat of religious radicalism is considered to be the highest in the republic, clerics heads were to ensure that students did not attend the night prayers. In this region, the local authorities already tightly control students’ attendance at mosques, including various forms of reporting on the numbers of pupils and times of visits.

Moreover, in Namangan every Imam of a mosque is to make sure that he invites specifically the graduates of the “Mullah Kyrgyz” madrasah of Namangan to read prayers. For this, they should first transfer 20,000 sums ($ 20) to the madrasah and “make an agreement” with the supreme spiritual judge or kadi of the region, Abdulhay Tursunov. Addresses and phone numbers of those invited to read Koran should be reported to Tursunov as well.

Second, imams are in charge of informing their parishioners that they must arrive to the mosque by foot, not by car. Earlier, they were required to observe that the number of cars in front of a mosque would not exceed one hundred.

Obviously, there is a rising governmental control over the activities of religious organizations and the spiritual life of the citizens of Uzbekistan. Moreover, in certain critical parts of the country, this issue has a serious character and a vivid political context.

From the early years of independence, Uzbekistan’s mosques have become a place of unofficial interaction and political self-organization. Later on, thousands of Muslims were accused of belonging to extremist religious groups with many mosques being closed. Nevertheless, the right to practice any religion or none is provided by the articles 18, 31 and 61 of the Constitution and the Law “On the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations”.

It is a well-known fact that situation with religious extremism in Uzbekistan is of a big concern, and for this reason, the government exercises tight control over the activities of religious organizations. Now it seems that even celebrations of the major, widely recognized Muslim holidays undergo tough regulations.