Measuring the Energy and Legitimacy of Uzbekistan’s Islamic Leaders – The Diplomat


The recognition of Islamic leaders in Uzbekistan is rising. With the upward thrust of the web and relative freedom of speech, imams and preachers are regaining affect they’d misplaced – first to Soviet atheism and later, to former President Islam Karimov’s exhausting line towards Islam. Those devout leaders have established a presence on more than a few on-line platforms and social media, accumulating hundreds of thousands of fans. Some are even enticing in political discourse, crossing a line that used to be as soon as strictly forbidden.

In the beginning look, Tashkent’s new method towards devout freedom might appear irrational from the point of view of regime balance. Permitting Islamic leaders to realize affect in a rustic the place 94 % of the inhabitants professes Islam may well be perceived as a risk to the secular authorities’s dangle on energy. Alternatively, with the upward thrust of the web and greater openness in Uzbekistan since 2016, banning Islam-related on-line content material may just turn out much more destabilizing. 

When Central Asia used to be occupied first through the Orthodox Russian Empire and later through the atheist Soviet Union, Moscow may just no longer totally do away with Islam within the area. Muslim clerics at all times posed a problem to Russian/Soviet energy. In an try to exert keep an eye on over imams, Moscow established the Central Asian Muslim Non secular Board (SADUM) in 1943. Below this association, devout leaders pledged loyalty to the federal government in trade for native keep an eye on over on a regular basis Islamic lifestyles.

This negotiated energy stability continues to be very a lot in observe.

Following the cave in of the Soviet Union, Tashkent, together with different Central Asian republics, identified a possibility to fortify civic nationalism and nationwide id thru Islam. As a cultural heritage, Islam served two functions: to legitimize energy and to unite the country through de-Sovietizing the inhabitants. Even though the Soviet regime of the Eighties had accredited “cultural Islam,” and the newly impartial Central Asian republics possessed a ready-made collective id, additional efforts have been made to unite numerous populations and construct a extra cohesive nationwide id thru Islam. This used to be completed through drawing at the deep historical past of Islam within the area and its enduring public attachment. On this sense, Islam served as an id marker that predated the Soviet duration. 

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Karimov spoke about Islam in his first inauguration speech and is even stated to have held the Quran in a single hand and the newly followed charter within the different. Alternatively, as Islamic radicalization greater within the area, stringent measures have been applied to keep an eye on devout practices. 

Regardless of implementing strict restrictions on devout practices, Karimov accredited positive imams to perform underneath his stipulations. Essentially the most outstanding amongst them used to be the overdue Muhammad Sodiq Muhammad Yusuf, extensively known as “the sheikh.” He left Uzbekistan within the early Nineteen Nineties because of rising force however returned in 2001. Even though Muhammad Sodiq attributed his go back to the will of Uzbekistan’s Muslims for his presence, Tashkent additionally benefited from his cooperation. As a grand student, he stood towards Islamic radicalism and skilled folks on reasonable Islam whilst heading off politics. This used to be all through a time when neighboring Afghanistan, the place the Taliban had simply been dislodged from energy, used to be embroiled in an insurgency and conflict that will closing two decades, and later when 1000’s of Uzbeks have been becoming a member of the Islamic State and different radical Islamic teams.

In his later years, Muhammad Sodiq faithful himself to educating reasonable Islam in Uzbekistan and past thru in depth writings, a web-based presence, and media fabrics. His immense recognition and legitimacy have been such that, except Karimov, he used to be the one particular person whose demise used to be mourned through masses of 1000’s of folks crowding the streets of Tashkent.

The switch of energy from Karimov to Shavkat Mirziyoyev coincided with the well-liked adoption of the web in Uzbekistan. By means of 2022, the collection of web customers had risen to over 31 million (up from 12 million in 2016). Over 10 million folks actively used social media platforms akin to Fb and Instagram. Because the collection of web customers greater, so did the presence of  imams on on-line platforms.

Spotting the impossibility of keeping up strict keep an eye on over devout pursuits, the brand new management in Uzbekistan followed a technique of co-opting devout establishments somewhat than opposing them. Between 2017 and 2021, staff of the rustic’s formal devout gadget introduced 58 web sites, 166 Telegram channels, 200 Fb pages, and 21 YouTube channels, attracting 1000’s of fans. The most well liked Islamic YouTube channel, AzonTV, as an example, had 1.2 million subscribers ahead of they rebranded as Fikrat and deleted their devout content material this August, for causes but to be disclosed.

Alternatively, the recognition of those devout figures is tied to their legitimacy, which is derived from their formal positions inside government-affiliated devout establishments. Tashkent controls the appointment of primary imams and regulates the content material and quantity of non secular sermons, print fabrics, and different media within the title of  fighting Islamic radicalization, terrorism, and extremism.

The choice of imams most often favors reasonable clerics with formal training in Uzbekistan. As an example, all chairmen of the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan, from Ishan Babakhan ibn Abdulmajidkhan, who held the location of mufti of SADUM in 1943-1957, to Muhammad Sodiq Muhammad Yusuf, who used to be the mufti all through the transition years (1989-1993), to mufti Usmakhan Alimov, had their first formal training in Uzbekistan – most commonly within the Mir-i-Arab madarasa in Bukhara and Tashkent Islamic Institute – after which went to check in another country. The present chairman, Nuriddin Kholiknazarov, could also be famed for his moderation. He’s identified because the “imam of compromise.”

In different phrases, it’s tricky in nowadays’s Uzbekistan for any individual to realize the agree with of 1000’s with out being affiliated with a proper, governmental devout establishment within the nation. With no license and enhance from state-affiliated establishments, it’s unimaginable.

In 2018, the Ministry of Justice of Uzbekistan indexed 40 on-line profiles, YouTube and Telegram channels, social media accounts, and internet pages as “extremist and terrorist.” This listing has since grown to 198 entries. For the previous yr, arrests over spreading devout content material this is discovered extremist through the committee, even nasheeds, devout songs, have slightly greater. Persons are wary about who to hear and whose preaching they observe for safety causes and the most secure choice is at all times imams with an association to formal establishments.

Native imams hardly prepare sermons or gatherings with locals or discuss live to tell the tale on-line platforms on their very own. Livestreams on YouTube channels, as an example, most often happen most effective all through the holy month of Ramadan and have recitations of the Quran and low sermons. Abror Mukhtor Aliy, a well-known and arguable devout blogger and deputy head of the Educating Qur’an Tajweed division on the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan, is likely one of the few exceptions. He speaks on a variety of subjects, together with world and home politics, whilst last reasonable.

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Spontaneous reside Q&A periods aren’t generally streamed, and subjects for dialogue are pre-planned, most likely with oversight from formal establishments. Imams most effective once in a while discuss political issues and after they do, they faithfully enhance the professional narrative. For example, all through closing yr’s unrest in Karakalpakstan, imams advised folks to stick at house and admire non violent occasions.

In a similar fashion, when the Common Prosecutor’s Administrative center warned voters towards becoming a member of overseas armies after a video of 2 Uzbek voters allegedly being captured through Ukrainian forces went viral, the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan echoed this caution within the language of Shariah. “It’s not permissible for Muslims to unite with non-believers and struggle towards some other non-religious crew,” the board mentioned, quoting from Imam Muhammad’s As-Siyarul-Kabir.

Regardless of issues inside Uzbek society about rising “Islamization,” Islamic leaders revel in vital enhance in city spaces, specifically some of the well-off. This can be related to financial balance, as folks generally tend to show to faith after pleasurable their elementary wishes. Alternatively, this recognition isn’t only because of the truth that Islamic leaders constitute hundreds of thousands of locals who establish as Muslims. Figuring out as a Muslim isn’t the same as following Islam completely. Imams are widespread amongst positive segments of society, whilst for lots of others, faith is solely some other side of  their id. This may also be noticed through taking a look at other on-line websites – the most well liked ones aren’t Islamic platforms, however information and leisure channels.

On Uzbek YouTube, probably the most adopted channels are the comedy crew Million Jamoasi, with nearly 3 million subscribers, and Turfa Olam, a channel for more than a few tales and information with over 1.7 million fans. Against this, well-known Islamic figures have fewer subscribers. Abror Mukhtor Aliy, as an example, has over part one million subscribers, whilst the professional YouTube channel of the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan,, has most effective 379,000 fans.

Telegram is some other widespread app in Uzbekistan. Alternatively, even there, channels run through native Islamic leaders aren’t the most well liked some of the public. Zikr Ahlidan So’rang (Ask Other people of Wisdom/Remembrance), introduced through the overdue Sheikh Muhammad Sodiq to respond to questions about faith, has not up to 150,000 fans. When compared, the inside track Telegram channel has just about 1.2 million.

Islamic leaders of Uzbekistan do revel in recognition and a point of affect, however their legitimacy most commonly stems from the formal positions they dangle. They retain a low profile and information the general public on socioeconomic issues most commonly. But their recognition is most effective rising together with agree with and admire presented through the hundreds. This development displays the converting social and political panorama in Uzbekistan, in addition to the evolving courting between faith and the state. 



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