Women & Islam

by Nathan Hamm on 10/28/2004

RFE/RL interviews Habiba Fath on the important role of women in Central Asian Islam.

RFE/RL: You mentioned that the “otin-oyi” exist only in Central Asia. Is that so?

Fathi: “‘Otin-Oyi’ is an Uzbek term. Among Tajik people you say ‘Bibi khalifa,’ but it’s the same function. In fact this is an old religious female function that existed before the ‘Sovietization’ of Central Asia among Tajik, Uzbek, Iranian people. I read that you also can find them in Azerbaijan and in Shi’a communities of Iraq or Iran. But the function today is more active in Central Asia.”

RFE/RL: In which of the five Central Asian states women have the opportunity to play a more prominent role in religious matters?

Fathi: “I think it is especially [valid] in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan because the functions of ‘otin-oyi’ or ‘bibi khalifa’ in Tajik, a term that you can translate as ‘female mullah,’ essentially exist among sedentary peoples. We can’t find any ‘otin-oyi,’ for example, among Kazakh or Kyrgyz that are nomadic people. This function of female religious mullah should be explained, should be linked to [Islam’s] Shi’a tradition. That’s one of my conclusions, but I am not sure if I am right or not.”

Yet another sign that recent fundamentalist imports offer precious little genuine “restoration” of the role of Islam in Central Asian life.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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