Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Islam in Kyrgyzstan and Hijab

More than 86% of the population of Kyrgyzstan is Muslim. Kyrgyzstan has seen a drain of its non-Muslim population as the percentage of Russians, Ukrainians, and Germans dropped from about 32% to about 14% within 20 years. This and the revival of Islamic practices since independence made Islam a force to be considered in the political spheres of Kyrgyzstan. The constitution of Kyrgyzstan is strictly secular, but Islamic values seep into not only daily but also political life. 

Most Muslims belong to the Sunni branch of Islam, which came into the region already during the 8th century. Sufism has a strong tradition in Kyrgyzstan. The wandering sufi ascetics might have found a better reception with nomadic North. And it doesn’t surprise that you can still find shamanistic practices among Kyrgyz Muslims. The South of Kyrgyzstan is different; you can view the North as being more secular and the South being more religious.

You can see a strong revival of Islam in Kyrgyzstan after independence in 1991. Back then Kyrgyzstan had 39 mosques, which number has risen to 2300. “A field study by doctoral student Yanti Hölzchen of the collaborative research center ResourceCultures has found that at the same time, there is a desire among Kyrgyz of all ages to practise a moderate form of Islam - particularly among 20-40 year olds.” It might not be the building boom but the concessions that alarm Kyzgyz politicians. It is very easy for a village to have a mosque being build and financed by Saudi Arabia, but the Imam is trained in Saudi Arabia, which means that Saudi or wahhabitic values are introduced into the Kyrgyz society.

Left side is a picture of women in traditional dresses

The first picture irritates, but it shows the concerns of politicians, in which direction the Kyrgyz society might chance to go. On the other hand only the women should decide how much veil they want to be dressed in (Niqab).  The niqab and burka might arouse security concerns, especially in countries that see terroristic attacks. How is it in Kyrgyzstan? I haven’t seen extreme forms like niqab or burka. Lots of women don’t use a headscarf. One sees more women in rural areas than in the cities wearing a headscarf.

Market in Bishkek - the meat sellers have to wear a cap or a head scarf because of hygienic reasons (so its 50:50 here)

Three young ladies obviously enjoying a more traditional way of dressing - central park in Bishkek

Posing for wedding pictures near Karakol / Issyk-Kul 

Market at Osch in the South - most women wear hijab 

But that's also at the market in Osch - and none of the young women is wearing a head scarf



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