Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 1

A Kyrgyz Muslim Kurultay on December 26 elected Mullah Abdysatar as the country’s new Mufti and head of a revamped Muslim Spiritual Board, the country’s top religious body. Government officials attended the congress, called on just a few days’ notice by the State Commission on Religious Affairs to discuss the "crisis" in the Spiritual Board.

The Justice Ministry and the State Commission on Religious Affairs had suspended the incumbent Spiritual Board the previous week. They cited alleged complaints from Muslim believers over "improprieties" in the Board’s 1993 registration and the subsequent election that year of Kimsanbay Abdrahmanov as Mufti by a Kurultay now described as invalid. State Commission chairman Emil Kaptagaev also mentioned "an open split among Muslim believers, with hundreds of mosques no longer loyal to the Spiritual Board," and the ex-Mufti’s failure to check the credentials of a number of imams "who are preaching in many mosques despite lacking proper spiritual qualifications." (Radio Bishkek, December 26; Interfax, December 20, 23)

Those last remarks reflect the real factors that underlay the state’s decision to change the Muslim leadership. Southern Kyrgyzstan, particularly the Osh region, has witnessed a religious revival spearheaded by young imams, some of them returning from study in Arab countries. A Muslim religious underground existed in southern Kyrgyzstan already in the Soviet era. Although the movement is not known to be linked to international Islamic radicalism, the Kyrgyz state appears to seek a more effective and loyal Muslim clerical leadership to contain a potential challenge.

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