From the Faith Page

by Nathan Hamm on 11/2/2004 · 1 comment

Two stories from two different faiths in Uzbekistan.

First, the former chief mufti of Uzbekistan is calling for the lifting of restrictions on Islam.

Regarded as one of the most authoritative and influential Muslim theologians of Central Asia, and a key figure in Uzbekistan’s religious life since the country’s independence in 1991, Muhammad Yusuf has enjoyed a unique position ever since his return to his homeland in 2000. He is currently the only Muslim theologian in Uzbekistan who, while at a distance from the state authorities, is not prevented by the authorities from making his views known to other Muslims. Such freedom to publish is exceptional for any religious figure in today’s Uzbekistan, and is more remarkable as Muhammad Yusuf no longer has any state function nor any official position in the Muslim Board (see F18News 20 May 2003

He writes many books on theology and all are published in Uzbekistan without prior approval from the muftiate or the government’s committee for religious affairs. He has his own private radio station Navruz and a site on the Internet (, while his sermons are distributed on compact disc. That his website is hosted by the Uzbek Scientific & Education Network, a local internet company, is a further sign that the authorities do at least allow him a certain public profile to spread his views.

The discussion in the article is interesting. Yusuf is obviously walking a fine line, but that he is allowed to walk it speaks a lot about either his prestige or a development of breathing space for Muslims in Uzbekistan. It is worth noting that both Forum 18 and Yusuf note that harassment of men with beards has decreased in recent years.

In other news, Tashkent’s Bethany Baptist continues to face significant hurdles to official recognition.

Pastor Nikolai Shevchenko, of the Bethany Baptist Church in Tashkent, was on 26 October fined 65,000 sums by the Mirzo-Ulugbek district court in Tashkent, under article 240 (breaking the law on religious organisations) of Uzbekistan’s code of administrative offences, he told Forum 18 News Service that same day. The sentence followed a police and National Security Service (NSS) secret police raid on a church service led by the Pastor, and the judge warned Shevchenko that, if he did not halt the activity of the church, a criminal case would be brought against him.

Pastor Shevchenko pointed out to Forum 18 that it is a strange coincidence that, having ignored his church for three years, the NSS and the police raided a service of worship at the same time as Uzbekistan was being visited by a delegation from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). “It seems to me that this can scarcely be a coincidence. Tashkent is using this to try and demonstrate that it is not afraid of pressure from the international community and that it does not intend to observe international standards on the rights of believers,” Shevchenko told Forum 18.

In my opinion, short of the church planning to launch an armed insurrection, this is an enormous insult to the USCIRF, and by extension, the US government.

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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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{ 1 comment }

Laurence November 2, 2004 at 3:22 pm

Nathan, It might also be that they were showing that they did not only pick on Muslims, but also Christians–sort of like the FBI arresting American Jews and Israelis after 9/11…

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