Women banned from attending mosques in Bukhara

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by Noah Tucker on 8/18/2009 · 18 comments

I post this without comment of my own except a short note on differences in translation. Ferghana.ru is reporting this week in that after pressuring women for several months to stop attending mosque on Fridays, Bukhara authorities have officially told them to stay home.

Muslim women in Bukhara are now prohibited to go to mosques, where they are used to go before Friday prayer. According to Uzbekistani Committee for religious affairs, in 2009 Friday prayer in the Bukhara mosques was attended by over thousand women. Two mosques, Khuzha tabband and Piri dastgir, were especially popular. However, since recently the representatives of law enforcement bodies, clergy and mahallah (district) committees have been actively urging Muslim women stop visiting mosques and reached significant success.

Ferghana.ru is reporting the story in English, Russian, and Uzbek . This is the first time I can remember seeing a story on Ferghana.ru that was basically identitical in all three languages. The only difference of any potential significance that jumps out at me is that the English version ends by saying that Bukharan authorities have decided women’s presence in the mosque for Friday prayers is “intolerable,” while the Russian version (недопустимое) is I think closer to a simple “unacceptable” and the Uzbek is (ножоиз) something like “out of place” or “inappropriate.” Whether this difference in shades of meaning is conscious editorializing for different audiences or just translators’ prerogative, I can’t say… but I’ve noticed before that some multilingual Central Asia sites will often shape the content in a language across languages to meet expectations of different assumed readerships.

Please feel free link to other coverage/versions of the story in the comments. So far I don’t see it reported in other places, but I’m sure it means I’m just not looking hard enough.

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– author of 54 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Noah Tucker is managing editor at Registan.net and an associate at George Washington University's Elliot School of International Affairs Central Asia Program. Noah is a researcher and consultant for NGO, academic and government clients on Central Asian society and culture. He has worked on Central Asian issues since 2002--specializing in religion, national identity, ethnic conflict and social media--and received an MA from Harvard in Russian, E. European and Central Asian Studies in 2008. He has spent four and half years in the region, primarily in Uzbekistan, and returned most recently for fieldwork in Southern Kyrgyzstan in the summers of 2011 and 2012.

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David Degner August 18, 2009 at 9:02 pm

I’m curious what they mean by “unacceptable”. What is the theological argument to keep women from mosques and is there a cultural or political reason?

Toryalay Shirzay August 18, 2009 at 9:33 pm

For those of you who never get enough of or never get tired of intellectual wrestling,there is nothing to be gained at attending mosques except brainwashing at its worst.Had you known the realities of the mosques, you would have seen the wisdom of the Uzbeks at banning women from there and you would have looked forward to a day when the Uzbeks gotten smarter by banning men as well.And thereafter,these brainwashing and brainwasting centers of islamic fascism ,the mosques where the mullahs molest children, be transformed into flower gardens where music and poetry be sang in overture to the splendor of the great spirit.But alas,the Americans,when will they resolve to banish evil once and for all??!!when,when,when……………..?

Turgai Sangar August 19, 2009 at 3:38 am

Toralay, you obviously hate Islam. OK fine, you probably have your personal reasons for it. Yet know that international neoliberalism will not ‘save’ your country or Eurasia either.

The thing is, had you known the realities in Uzbekistan then you would know that all this is not about keeping people away from ‘religious brainwashing’ (the rapacious gangster regime in Tashkent tries to brainwash its subjects as well) or ‘humanism’ but about totalitarian control.

Brian August 18, 2009 at 10:04 pm

Huh? And how’d the Americans get roped into this all of a sudden?

Noah Tucker August 18, 2009 at 10:51 pm

Okay… putting the comment thread back on track after some trolling above: I realized after I wrote this post that the story on Ferghana.ru doesn’t give much perspective, and that in fact while I had assumed that Soviet era reforms would have mandated equal-opportunity attendance for women, I couldn’t think of anything I had read on this particular topic.

My instinct, as it turns out, was wrong: I asked a friend who knows this field far better than I do. He told me that in fact, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan at least were generally always very gender-separated, even during the Soviet period and after as well. His response was that while some reformist imams deliberately attempted to attract women to mosque (which would have marked a change), a separate area was usually built for them to worship apart from the men in the main area.

He mentioned though, too, that this appears to have the fingerprints of the government all over it (note that the police, religious authorities, and the mahalla committees are all acting in unison on this, which is generally a telltale sign of an order from above). Now the question is–why should the government care?

I want to credit him here for his input but I have to wait until the morning and ask his permission… anybody else with background for this thread please chime in! (No more trolls, though… I let one go and the rest will be deleted, so don’t bother please.)

Turgai Sangar August 19, 2009 at 3:45 am

“Now the question is–why should the government care?”

Interestingly, several mosque bans seem to be local: this time it’s women in Bukhara, before it was youth prohibited from attending mosques in Andijan. IMO, it sometimes has to do with overzealous regional satraps who want to please the top brass in Tashkent.

Another factor IMO is, at least basing myself on my experiences and observations in (ethnically Uzbek) Jalalabad, that older women often serve as vectors of informal religious education for kids.

Turgai Sangar August 19, 2009 at 8:27 am

By the way, in 2004 there was a similar controverse in Tajikistan: http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1055440.html

Schwartz August 19, 2009 at 10:29 am

Like David, I’m really curious to hear if there is any theological rationale behind this. It’s most likely some kind of security concern (NE is trying to find out what we can…)

Ian August 19, 2009 at 7:19 am

“Impermissible” would be an English word that could work for both nedopustimoe and nojoiz.

Noah August 19, 2009 at 7:38 am

Ian–so would you agree that there may be a bit of editorializing here in the choice rendering either the Uzbek or the Russian as “intolerable,” or am I reading too much into it because I want to makes some kind of pattern out of it?

Noah Tucker August 19, 2009 at 9:18 am

You’re right, thanks! I saw “nojoiz” and confused the “-joi” with the Uzbek “joy” (place).

Vadim Tsushko August 19, 2009 at 2:11 pm

The only difference of any potential significance that jumps out at me is that the English version ends by saying that Bukharan authorities have decided women’s presence in the mosque for Friday prayers is “intolerable,” while the Russian version (недопустимое) is I think closer to a simple “unacceptable”

Would you elaborate, what exact synonym of (недопустимое) seems obviously better to you in Russian version of that article?

Noah August 19, 2009 at 3:45 pm

“Intolerable” has a much more judgemental connotation than недопустимое necessarily does–while it is listed as one of the possible synonyms, невыносимый or непереносимый come closer for example to the meaning of the English text here. As Ian pointed out above, “impermissable” would have been a perfect translation for both the Uzbek and the Russian text–I’m never sure on Ferghana.ru which language was the original.

Especially when referring to religious issues, intolerable carries a connotation of disgust and condemnation. I think it also carries an implicit threat of action to stop or punish the action being judged.

I think, given Ian’s correction of the softer synonyms I had originally translated for the Uzbek term, that there’s less of a case to be made that there were deliberate shades of meaning emphasized in one translation or another. What probably happened is that somebody looked it up in the dictionary and picked a synonym—and since the translator doesn’t seem to have been a native English speaker, I don’t know that they were conscious of the difference that I’m seeing.

If you have an argument, feel free to make it.

Vadim Tsushko August 20, 2009 at 12:02 am

Sorry, I didn’t take into account direction of translation.

Oldschool Boy August 20, 2009 at 12:10 am

I would not read too much into it. Word недопустимое can have more than one meaning, including unacceptable, impermissible, and intolerable as well. It depends on the context. The translator just picked a word, which seemed more correct то her, without giving it too much thought. Although in this case I would rather use word inappropriate, but again I can be underestimating the strength of the statement in the Russian version. (By the way, I think that невыносимый or непереносимый would be closer to unbearable). Unfortunately, I am just guessing, because I can not read in Uzbek. And I am more confused with the word “believe” in the same sentence, because I would translate it as “consider”.

Turgai Sangar August 24, 2009 at 9:08 am

“I would not read too much into it.” I agree. That discussion is merely hair-splitting while the article talks about a much more fundamental issue: oppression in Uzbekistan.

ML August 23, 2009 at 8:20 am

“her …. without giving it too much thought”

Women not thinking much. I can believe that.

Nick August 24, 2009 at 1:34 pm

I’ve recently rwad Maria Elisabeth Louw’s Everyday Islam in Post-Soviet Central Asia (2007), based in large part on field research carried out in Bukhara during 1998-2000. A lot of it focuses on the role of women in Islam, and Louw notes that women in Bukhara rarely went to the mosque. Can anyone confirm that this is still the case, and whether or not the recent ruling merely reinforces the status quo? In which case, judging by Louw’s research, it will hardly affect the involvement of women in local manifestations f Islam, which seem mostly to focus around home and hearth, leaving us with one question to ask: what is the *political* rationale?

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