Friday, December 01, 2006

Militant Islam in Kyrgyzstan

Every once and awhile the Jamestown Foundation publishes an article that just falls flat for me, and this piece by Igor Rotar about an Islamist threat in southern Kyrgyzstan is one of them. As a simple factual mistake, the author has apparently confused the Hanafi and Hanbali schools of Sunni jurisprudence. The Hanafi dominates Central Asia, but it's the Hanbali that prevails in Saudi Arabia and opposes Sufism. It's not clear to me whether Abduvali Merzoev, an Uzbek imam he mentions, was actually a Hanafi whose beliefs the author described erroneously, or whether he got the beliefs right and just happened to use the wrong name in the article.

More fundamentally, the case that there is a rising danger of Islamic militancy in the Ferghana Valley has been made before, but the evidence presented here is not good. Muhammadrafik Kamalov, killed in Karasu a few months ago, did allow Hizb ut-Tahrir members to pray in his mosque, but also distanced himself from their ideology, and defended allowing them on the grounds that to do otherwise would be takfir, or denying the Muslim label to other Muslims, a radical step mainly associated with Muslim militants. (Shi'ites in Iraq call al-Qaeda and other Sunni militant groups takfiris because of it.) Furthermore, Hizb ut-Tahrir is a peaceful group, and as it is more liberal than Wahhabis and Salafis, its criticism by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and other al-Qaeda-linked groups is not surprising.

Finally, the statement used to link Kamalov to the IMU is quite remarkable: "Nonetheless, it is known that Muhammadrafik Kamalov hated Islam Karimov for the treatment of Mirzoev, making it likely that the imam sympathized with all the enemies of the Uzbek president." Since I, too, hate Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, as well as several other Central Asian dictators, Rotar could use the same argument to link me to the IMU.

This bit is more convincing, and interesting:
"Today, no one in Kyrgyzstan will deny that Kyrgyz citizens participated in the Andijan uprising. The citizens that took part were probably members of the Kyrgyz wing of the Akramiya organization that took the lead during the events in Andijan. 'It's no secret that we have Akramists here in the south. Almost all of them are local Uzbeks. They knew of the uprising and left for Andijan several days in advance,' said the head of the Osh human rights organization The Rays of Solomon, Sadykdzhan Mahmudov. Apparently, Akramiya has been active in the region for years. 'In 1998, people who told the faithful that they shouldn't go to mosques and should instead pray at home appeared. This denial of the mosque is one part of Akramiya's teaching,' Zakirov explained.

"One of the key ideas of Akramiya is the creation of Islamic business-communities, a sort of Islamic form of socialism. Such communities in Andijan had a high level of social benefits, with the Muslim businessmen of the city agreeing that the minimum wage in the city should be $50 a month, a level roughly 10 times the general Uzbek wage, and swore not to pay their workers less than this amount. The Akramists also organized "community credit unions" that religious Muslims could draw on for help in developing their businesses. If the enterprise succeeded, the entrepreneur decided how much he wanted to return to the credit union. It is notable that the Kyrgyz security services have recently uncovered a number of business-communities run on the Andijan model. The Akramists, however, do not just want to build 'Islamic socialism' peacefully since a veritable arsenal of weapons has been discovered among the Uzbek members of Akramiya arrested in Osh this past August. "

"Islamic socialism" could become the Central Asian version of the Hamas social services network, with the Akramiya reaping the ultimate political benefits.

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)


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