New Kyrgyz burial provisions may worsen religious situation - Paper
New religious clauses
The Kyrgyz Muslim Muftiate [the Spiritual Department of Kyrgyz Muslims] adopted a resolution several weeks ago containing the following clauses:
1. A deceased person must be buried on the same day. If a person dies in the evening then the deceased person must be buried the following day.
2. No fire should be lit at a deceased person's home in order to cook a hot meal.
3. No ritual distribution of shawls should be carried out.
4. Those who practised a religion other than Islam must not be buried in a Muslim graveyard.
The adoption of such a resolution has caused mixed reactions among experts.
[Passage omitted: the peak of the ideological attack on the former Soviet countries by different religious sects was between 1994-1998]
As for Kyrgyzstan, it is a web of languages and religions, peoples' traditions and ancient prejudices. And all this is taking place against the background of an increasingly growing ideological and spiritual vacuum that emerged after the Soviet ideology collapsed. A lack of fundamental ideology has caused the development of a difficult situation which is fraught with social instability and which also threatens Kyrgyzstan's national security. Attempts to draw up a national ideology have not so far produced any desired results.
Faiths "springing up like mushrooms"
The Justice Ministry is sounding the alarm over the fact that new religious movements are springing up in the republic like mushrooms. Many [presumably nontraditional] faiths are operating unregistered and, accordingly, they are considered illegal. Inspections have revealed that foreign spiritual missionaries have started paying frequent visits to Kyrgyzstan and that their activities are not controlled by anyone. Missionaries are instilling their own spiritual values in the minds of citizens, and this is affecting the formation of their outlook. It is noteworthy that it is producing results. Signs of an economic crisis, the stratification and polarization of society, worsening social security and a rise in the number of unemployed are promoting a rise in [the number of] religious [believers]. Socially unprotected people start seeking protection and support in religion after losing their trust in a state that is unable to resolve many vitally important issues. This is particularly noticeable in the south of the country where a specific process of reislamization is currently under way.
Islamic ideology has always had firm positions here even during Soviet times but now radical Islamic movements are gradually gaining strength here. At a me when most believers are in a difficult financial situation, they [foreign missionaries] are calling on them to simplify their customs and make them inexpensive and are coming out against luxurious weddings and funeral wakes and so on. Radical forms of religion together with nationalism, including real public and political discontent over standards of living, have now turned from speculation into a real threat. At the same time Christian sects are advancing en masse in the north of Kyrgyzstan. The number of Catholics, Protestants, Evangelists and Baptists and others is increasing here. This is the result of the active work of missionaries from foreign religious communities which have powerful financial support. Another reason why they are succeeding [in achieving their goals] is active propaganda and advertising.
Advertising helps attract supporters
It is not only Slavs, but Kyrgyz and Kazakhs as well, who are now accepting a religious ideology that is different from the Islamic one, since the former is turning out to be more acceptable and valuable to them than Islamic spirituality. It is most likely that this is happening because of active advertising aimed at attracting new supporters irrespective of their ethnic background. Many communities, for instance the community of Evangelical Christian- Baptists, hold special prayers in Kyrgyz. There is already a [translated version of] the Gospels in Kyrgyz named Indzhil. One of the attractive factors is, of course, its availability in [various] languages. Material support given by these faiths to their supporters also has substantial importance.
Bahai is one of the religious faiths that is popular with citizens of Kyrgyzstan. This faith attracts [new members] by not rejecting any Gods and prophets, [it rejects] neither Mohammad nor Jesus Christ, nor Krishna nor others. The teachings of Bahai assimilate and include all spiritual values from various spiritual teachings. It is trying to wedge itself into traditional religious culture and to expand and deepen the understanding of the traditional common human values - kindness, humanity and morality; it rejects the difficulties of the ritual of Divine Liturgy accepted in Islam and Christianity. This is why it attracts many people from the intelligentsia.
Other nontraditional faiths which enjoy great public support are the community of Evangelic Christian-Presbyterians called Emmanuel, the church of the Moonies, the southern church of Evangelic Christian- Presbyterians, the Presbyterian church Saran and the society of Krishna consciousness. A new organization called Dianetika and many others are gaining strength in [Kyrgyz capital] Bishkek as well, their aim is to benefit from new members of the sect by appropriating their property.
Disputes between Muslims, Protestants
In general, the expansion of religions in Kyrgyzstan is going peacefully up to now. However, at the same time, contradictions are growing between these numerous faiths and their supporters over the expansion of the sphere of influence in society. Clashes between Kyrgyz Muslims and Kyrgyz Protestants have already become commonplace at the domestic level. Cases have been published in the press of Kyrgyz Muslims at rural meetings suggesting that extreme measures be taken against apostates i.e. not allotting them any plots of land to plant gardens; not supplying them with any irrigation water and electricity and so on.
Burial rule may cause problems
As for the innovations introduced by the Muslim Muftiate, no doubt that they are aimed at optimizing the religious situation in society and at attracting and keeping believers in traditional Islam. On the other hand, the resolution may have an adverse effect and worsen the situation even further. It is noteworthy that the rules adopted do not actually correspond to the ritual traditions of the ethnic Kyrgyz and they will hardly get accustomed to them, in particular, the clause saying that a deceased person must be buried on the same day, but if a person dies in the evening, then his funeral must be held the next day. According to Kyrgyz national traditions, a deceased person is buried three days after his death in order to enable his relatives to say farewell to him. Accordingly, the clause saying that no fire should be laid at a deceased person's home to cook a hot meal may cause Kyrgyz people to stage an unexpected rally, since this is also part of their most ancient traditions as described in the Manas epoch. [The customs established] by the [new] rules are more characteristic of ethnic Uzbeks and Tajiks who observe the rules of shari'ah rather than the traditional rituals.
The fact that the Muslim Muftiate has adopted such a resolution may be because most top-ranking clerics at the Spiritual Department of Kyrgyz Muslims have received their religious education in Uzbekistan. Anyway, it is most likely that such open ignorance of traditions will have an adverse effect.
Solution to problem
The way out of the situation is to tighten the law on religion at state level but not unilaterally adopting ill thought-out resolutions from the Muslim Muftiate. The law on religion has to specify clearly rules for classifying religious sects and rules for defining sects that may be given permission to operate [in the country].
It would be best of all to preserve the religious balance which existed in the republic before the reforms [had been started]. [The country] should try, first of all, to preserve classical Islam and Orthodox Christianity. Undoubtedly, any changes to the law should be thoroughly thought out, since the law has to be as ideologically appropriate as possible. The law has to be tightened in order to ban those sects which, first of all, are inflicting damage on the security of both the state and its citizens. All the more so as international practice already fights against parasite sects. If weakness is displayed in the fight against these sects, then not only ordinary people, but the state as a whole, will suffer.
[Kyrgyz newspaper Vecherniy Bishkek web site reported on 4 March that there were 885 foreign missionaries registered in the republic, of them more than 600 are Christian and about 70 represent nontraditional faiths. Most of these preachers come from the USA, South Korea, India and Germany].
©Copyright 2002, BBC Monitoring Central Asia