Uzbekistan: Ostentatious Meals Banned for Ramadan

The official body in charge of Islam in Uzbekistan has ordered Muslims not to end their daily Ramadan fasts by eating out together in public.

As in other Muslim countries, people in Uzbekistan end each day’s fasting after sunset with a meal called “iftar”.

Some welcome the ban as it will curb the lavish feasts thrown by the rich and powerful using the iftar as an excuse. That was the explanation offered by the Muslim directorate, the state-backed clerical establishment, which said it had agreed the measure with police and other government agencies as the month Ramadan got under way on August 11.

“Recently, iftar has become a feast for the well-off in Uzbekistan, whereas in the Prophet Muhammad’s time, large communal meals were provided for those in need who did not have the money or food to feast,” said an official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It was rich people who held the iftar in restaurants, to show the world how powerful they were,” said Tashkent resident Abdulaziz. “They would serve eight or nine courses, and all the guests would be wealthy.”

The ban seems to have had some effect. An employee of a large restaurant in the capital Tashkent said a group of wealthy customers had their booking cancelled and their prepayment returned to them, on the instructions of the authorities.

But others point out that it will also prevent ordinary people from enjoying the iftar as a communal event. In that sense, the ban appears to reflect the Uzbek government’s fear of any form of Islamic practice that it cannot control.

According to a resident of the western city of Samarkand, many people did not have the facilities for cooking for many guests at home. In addition, he said the local authorities banned people from inviting significant numbers of guests to the iftar.

Abduvahob, living in the eastern town of Fergana, confirmed that local government officials frowned on any kind of religious gathering in private houses, especially during Ramadan.

Constantly on the watch for signs of Islamic radicalism, the Uzbek government keeps a tight grip on Muslim observance, all the more so during the heightened religious atmosphere of Ramadan.

This article was produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.