Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Uzbekistan: Fergana Miracle
The birth of a lamb early this spring in the Ferghana with holy inscriptions emblazoned on its flanks, is being hailed as a miracle, attracting thousands of devout Muslims from the Central Asian nations that abut the fertile valley.
The lamb, born in the village of Durmen in the Akhunbabaev region of Uzbekistan, has a black fleece with white spots, which look like the Arabic for Allah on one side and Mohammed on the other. Many believers consider this "holy" lamb to be a symbol sent by God, heralding the day of reckoning.
Pilgrims have flocked to the village from all over the Fergana valley, as well as from other regions of Uzbekistan and neighbouring countries since the miracle was reported on the local Margilan TV station. Muslims have come from as far away as Turkey, China and Arabic countries in order to see the lamb, touch it, make donations and pray to Allah.
Neighbours of the lamb's owner Khudoiberdy Ochilov, 40, say he has already made a large amount of money out of the lamb - they say the daily income from visitors is over 300,000 sum (200 US dollars). One foreign pilgrim is said to have offered to buy the animal for 8 million sum (almost 5,500 dollars).
Ochilov is in no hurry to part with his "golden lamb". He has built a small enclosure with a low fence for the convenience of visitors.
He describes the birth of the lamb with its holy inscriptions as a gift from God.
There are few inhabitants of the Fergana valley - social activists, scientists and the imams from mosques included - who would disagree with him.
"It is the will of Allah, Allah himself gave Khudoiberdi this joy," said the chairman of the Durmen village council, Abdulla Akhmedov. "It was meant to be."
The clergy at the local mosque have no explanation for the phenomenon other than to agree with the public's view that it is the will of God. "I've seen the lamb. It's simply a miracle, a sign from above," said Imam Sultan Mohammedkhon Umarov.
Only the radical Islamic organisation Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Uzbekistan, challenges the view that the lamb is blessed. In its opinion, elevating a humble animal to such heights contradicts the central tenets of Islam. "It is not the lamb that is holy, but he who created it - we should worship Allah not the animal," said a member of the organisation.
The authorities in the Fergana valley, traditionally the most religious area of Uzbekistan, are not trying to stop the cult status growing up around the miracle lamb.
The area has been facing growing problems - unemployment, a fall in living standards and the repression of Islamic groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir - and the authorities would clearly prefer the locals worship an innocent lamb than become involved in more dangerous areas of religious extremism.
In the eyes of the locals, who are tired of their problems, the animal signals a hope that Allah has touched their homeland and happiness and prosperity will follow its birth.
It has already improved the material circumstances of many in the Fergana valley. Enterprising people have started to sell photographs and postcards bearing the image of the lamb. And new bus routes have even been introduced to service the pilgrims from various locations in the valley. Their names are simple enough: "Kokand-Lamb", "Kuva-Lamb", "Shakhrikhan-Lamb".
Khalmuhammed Sabirov and Miassar Umarova are IWPR contributors
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