Kyrgyzstan: Religious Students to be Probed

Bishkek security agencies look set to tighten the screws on Kyrgyz nationals studying Islam abroad.

Kyrgyzstan: Religious Students to be Probed

Bishkek security agencies look set to tighten the screws on Kyrgyz nationals studying Islam abroad.

The Bishkek government is planning to put Kyrgyz students studying abroad under surveillance, after reports that some of them have joined radical Islamic groups.

The Kyrgyz National Security Service says it holds files on 300 Kyrgyz nationals studying in Pakistan, only 25 of whom are there legally. Some, according to security service official Talant Razzakov, are known to have joined the Taleban.

About 30, he says, are members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, a rebel group that has staged several small-scale operations in Central Asia in the last two years.

The Kyrgyz authorities are also casting their watchful eye on the contents of Islamic education provided at home. Five Islamic universities and 27 madrasahs have opened since the country gained independence ten years ago. The government is challenging their sources of financing and auditing and revising their curricula.

The greater concern, however, appears to be the prospect of students radicalised in foreign Islamic institutions returning to Kyrgyzstan and taking part in militant actions. "What are those people going to do once their religious and political schooling is over?" asks Razzakov. "Of, course, they will come back to Kyrgyzstan for some 'hands-on' experience."

Prominent Kyrgyz politician Tursunbai Bakir uulu, however, has spoken out strongly against the plan to put Kyrgyz students abroad under surveillance. "Why don't they do something about those well-known religious sects that do incite unrest in the country?" he said.

Parents of students studying abroad deny there is a problem. Abdusamat Adylbekov travels to Pakistan regularly to visit his two sons who are at an Islamic school there. "My kids are getting a real Islamic education that has nothing to do with politics or jihad," he said.

Others disagree. Taalat Masadykov, who used to work for the Soviet embassy in Afghanistan, said that when he was there and in Pakistan last spring he met several of his compatriots who were studying at Islamic institutions. "You look at them, and you realise right away they are Taleban. I've heard there are dozens of them over there," he said.

Bishkek officials, meanwhile, are keen not to seem too alarmist about the threat posed by radicalised Muslim youth. Head of a government commission on religious affairs, Omurzak Mamayusupov, has even sought to downplay the problem.

"Many people left Kyrgyzstan during the first few years after independence in search of Islamic education abroad, as Muslims had been deprived of the opportunity to worship for decades," he said. "But these days, very few people are keen on studying abroad."

The authorities here, it seems, are not opposed to students going overseas, they would just prefer them to stay clear of Pakistan.

According to official statistics, some 300 Kyrgyz nationals have been lawfully admitted to foreign Islamic schools in recent years. More than half of them go to school in Egypt.

Both Kyrgyz government and clerical leaders here have a particularly high opinion of the Al-Az'har World Islamic University in Cairo. The Rector of the Islamic Institute in Bishkek, Abdyshukur Narmatov, an Al-Az'har graduate, believes Egypt provides the best Islamic education to be had.

"All Islamic schools in Egypt are public, and are very closely monitored by the government and the community," he said. " That's not the case, however, in other Muslim countries suffering internal religious problems."

Favaz al-Dahir, dean of the Arabic language department at Kyrgyz State University of Civil Engineering, Transportation and Architecture, agrees, citing Pakistan as a particular worry " A higher percentage of Islamic schools are privately owned there. I wouldn't recommend students at their schools because there are too many problems and Afghanistan is very close."

Sultan Jumagulov is a regular IWPR contributor

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