Kyrgyz Mufti Fends Off Extremism Charges

Leading Muslim leader denies claims that he’s a key figure in Hizb ut-Tahrir movement.

Kyrgyz Mufti Fends Off Extremism Charges

Leading Muslim leader denies claims that he’s a key figure in Hizb ut-Tahrir movement.

The leader of the largest mosque in southern Kyrgyzstan has stepped up efforts to clear his name after being accused for a second time of leading an outlawed Islamic group.

In an interview with IWPR, Muhammad Rafik Kamalov, imam of the central mosque in Karasuu, 20 kilometres from the regional centre Osh, once more denied claims that the building was the headquarters of Hizb ut-Tahrir and that he was its head.

Kamalov said that he didn’t agree with the organisation’s stated aims - the replacement of the Kyrgyz leadership with an Islamic regime by non-violent means - as they were “against the constitution and the lawful government”.

“I work for the muftiyat [the main religious body] which does not acknowledge or support this party,” he said.

Claims of his association with the illegal Islamic group – whose overarching ambition, it says, is to establish a global Islamic state without recourse to violence - were first made by parliamentary deputy Alisher Sabirov in a letter to the state committee on religious affairs in May.

The letter was subsequently leaked to Kamalov and his supporters. Several thousand of the latter demonstrated against the accusations on September 17. And a week later, the authorities sent him an email reiterating them and warning him not to hold any more unsanctioned rallies.

Kamalov does not deny that Hizb ut-Tahrir members pray at his mosque, but insisted that its doors were open to all.

“Yes, members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir come. I know some of them by sight, because we grew up together. But I do not have the right to forbid them from visiting,” he said.

“They do not bring propaganda here or distribute leaflets. If that happened, the mosque-goers themselves would get angry and throw them out.”

Kamalov insisted that he would not go the way of two other mosques in the area which expelled Hizb ut-Tahrir members three years ago, “ The Koran forbids driving away a worshipper, whoever he is.”

This is not the first time that the Karasuu mosque has been accused of harbouring Islamic militants. In May this year, Uzbek and Kyrgyz secret services conducted joint surveillance of the building during prayers, which ended with some of the agents being temporarily detained by worshippers.

Political analyst Elmurat Yusup Aliev, who has been monitoring the group for some time, said Kamalov’s open door policy has fuelled claims that he supports Hizb ut-Tahrir.

He said 6,000 worshippers attend Kamalov’s mosque and seventy per cent of them are either members or supporters of the radical Muslim group.

“That is why there are claims that he is their leader. But Hizb ut-Tahrir members just go to pray there. They can confirm that he is not their leader,” he told IWPR.

Political scientist Alisher Khamidov, a Central Asian researcher with the US-based John Hopkins University, agreed, pointing out that Kamalov is known for his criticism of the Islamic radicals.

Khamidov says, however, that the imam does not agree with the authorities heavy-handed tactics towards the group.

“Kamalov and several other imams realise that it is very difficult to extinguish radical ideas by methods of force. So they hold open debates and dialogue with Hizb ut-Tahrir members.

“It seems that the security services see their contacts with the Hizb ut-Tahrir as support for radicals. This is an incorrect interpretation of the real situation.”

The analyst also suggests that Bishkek might have come under pressure from its Uzbek neighbours to deal more firmly with the group’s members.

Hizb ut-Tahrir has a well-established base in Uzbekistan. The authorities there have imprisoned thousands of people suspected of belonging the organisation, which has been accused of several bombing incidents.

During a meeting with Czech president Vaclav Klaus in Tashkent on September 13, Uzbek president Islam Karimov again criticised the Kyrgyz authorities for what he perceives as their tolerance towards Hizb ut-Tahrir.

“In Kyrgyzstan, voices can be heard in parliament to legalise the [the group]. [It] easily crosses over into neighbouring territories, carries out its activity and conducts savage acts….blowing up buildings or houses with people inside.”

Khamidov said, “The leadership of Uzbekistan has long expressed its displeasure that members of Hizb ut-Tahrir do not face much pressure in the Karasuu region.

“They also believe that Muslims in Karasu give refuge to Hizb ut-Tahrir members and other prohibited groups from Uzbekistan. The Uzbek authorities also believe that local imams train Hizb-ut-Tahrir members.

“As they can’t directly punish these imams, they try to pressure them through the Kyrgyz secret services and government.”

Alla Pyatibratova is an independent journalist in Osh and Ainagul Abrakhmanova is a programme coordinator of IWPR-Kyrgyzstan.

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