Crossroads Asia | Politics | Central Asia
The Justice Department is alarmed by religious figures whose teachings blur the line between religion, their personal moral views, and the law.
When President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power in 2016, he offered greater religious freedom as part of the social contract in return for accepting the legitimacy of his government and maintaining political and social order. Many changes followed. including the removal of 20,000 people from a blacklist of religious extremists, the release of 3,500 people imprisoned on charges of religious extremism and terrorism, the authorization of nationwide use of loudspeakers in mosques to announce the call to prayer and greater participation of government officials in religious rituals. Even the controversial rule prohibiting female students from wearing the hijab in public educational institutions was relaxed in September 2021 by allowing women to tie a scarf behind the back, without covering the neck.
The most profound effect of greater religious freedom in Uzbekistan, however, has been the proliferation of mostly pseudonymous and sometimes entirely government-appointed religious scholars who have easily won large followings among the national population. On social media such individuals have many followers compared to other voices on social media. These new advocates and “scholars” are free to broadcast, though their teachings often blur the line between religion and personal views. This unbridled free speech increasingly allows disreputable and extreme messages to reach the public and gain support. This, in turn, worries the government.
Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Justice is so far the only entity trying to defend itself against the influx of moral and religious information. The ministry has issued two relevant statements in the past five months, the latest published on February 8. The statements warn of possible legal repercussions and social consequences if these emissions are not tempered.
In both messages, the department sent a signal to the rest of the government and a warning to speak out. The statements speak to the challenges that religious “scholars” pose to secular state laws when they share messages with their followers about what is morally right and wrong. Since these divisive “scholars” have a large following, the ministry likely feels that their audiences are easily swayed by the views presented by “scholars.”
In the latest statement, the ministry said religious organizations and figures continue to spread ideas that divide people by judging certain segments of society that are not aligned with their view of what is morally good or bad. The ministry described a phenomenon where the rule of law is being pushed aside in the name of rules and moral views by religious “scholars” and warned of an imminent split in society if such messages are allowed to proliferate.
The ministry is sooner statement, made in September 2021, was his first attempt to contain the spread of extreme ideas. He was more explicit in describing developments in the country. The ministry presented several troubling messages, such as calls to restrict women’s conduct and choice of activities, banning certain types of art, and inciting negative views towards those who are not adept at Islam. The ministry asked people to keep their religious views and individual moral values, especially those that contradict the Constitution of Uzbekistan and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, personal and not to disseminate them through teachings. religious. The ministry reiterated that Uzbekistan is a secular state and each of its subjects is free to choose any religion or not.
The ministry tries to impose from above a separation of the state and moral and religious beliefs by invoking the current laws and the constitution, but it seems that it is the only one waging this war. Given how restrictive religious practice was just a few years ago, other parts of government seem particularly oblivious to the extreme messaging.
According to the ministry 2021 review“The observations show that there have been cases of attempts to make moral and religious opinions the subject of legal relations, as well as cases of informational propaganda contrary to our national values and which suppresses and restricts the personal rights of people.”
The moral and religious views of charismatic individuals with significant supporters are spreading in society at large. The teachings of these “scholars” are loaded with personal moral and ethical rules, often with the tacit support of the government. Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Justice finds itself in the middle of the battle with surprisingly no other government partners given how anti-religious all parts of the government were just a few years ago. So far, the ministry’s approach has been to warn and remind Uzbeks to respect the choices of others and abide by secular laws.