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Unrest, radicalisation, quality education are concerns
By Ulan Nazarov
BISHKEK – Unrest in the Arab world is forcing the Kyrgyz government to think about its students at Arab universities and madrassas.
Officially, more than 300 students from Kyrgyzstan are studying in Arab countries, said Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Kyrgyzstan (SAMK) Education Director Niyazaly Arynov.
Only 90 were studying under SAMK auspices, he said. The rest received invitations from various foundations and public organisations.
“Most of them are studying in Egypt at the famous Muslim university, Al-Azhar, but there are also those studying in other Arab countries – Libya, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia – and in countries like Pakistan,” he said.
However, the true number of students abroad is likely more than 3,000, Sulaiman Omurbekov of the Education Ministry’s Higher Education Department said.
“Many of them travel on their own or at the invitation of madrassas and universities without informing us,” he said. “We are trying to consolidate our information because this has the makings of a dangerous tendency.”
The state became concerned after learning that many Hizb ut-Tahrir, Salafiya and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan members had received religious educations in Arab countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, sometimes at unaccredited institutions, Omurbekov said.
“The issue is not even that Kyrgyzstan lacks agreements with some of these institutions, but that some of them are not even recognised by their own governments ... there is no guarantee the children there are not being force-fed religious extremist propaganda,” he said.
SCRA discusses solutions
The State Commission on Religious Affairs (SCRA) is discussing different solutions, said Zhumakadyr Karbetov of the SCRA.
“Proposals are afoot to return home all students who are not officially registered, as was done in Tajikistan,” he said. “We are not in a situation that requires extreme steps. However, we may require that students inform us which foreign universities and madrassas they are studying at.”
Kyrgyzstan is taking these steps because of the volatile situation in the Middle East, Dmitri Vasilyev, an analyst at Kazakhstan’s Centre for Religions, said. “Kyrgyzstan is concerned not only about radical madrassas but also about the probable transmission of revolutionary sentiment from the Arab world.”
However, Rafik Tursunali, of the Anti-Terrorist Centre, claimed, “the general situation in the Middle East has nothing in common (with ours).”
Last year, Fizuli Asadov withdrew his son Vali from a Saudi madrassa.
“The madrassa promised a good programme and funding, and so I agreed to allow Vali to go there, but for the three months that passed after he was admitted into the institution, I heard nothing from my son,” he said.
Finally, he visited the madrassa and found it was unaccredited and the students were being kept in isolation from the outside world. He sent his son to the madrassa in Bishkek.
Unrest is not bothering students
The unrest in the Arab world is not causing Kyrgyz students to leave, Arynov said. “They do not want to return yet because they see no reason to do so.”
“I studied at the Islamic University near Tripoli, and to tell the truth, I did not want to return home because I did not feel that my life was threatened,” said Mohamed O., a student. He was in Libya at the invitation of an international Arab organisation, he said.
The SAMK is considering alternatives to foreign schooling for Kyrgyz students.
“Based on the existing madrassas and universities, we want to create a unified system of new Islamic education covering the range of educational institutions from kindergarten and specialised grade schools to academies and graduate schools,” said SAMK Mufti Chubak azhy Zhalilov.
“We are aware this will cost money and time, but we must not forget that this will help solve many problems in the education of future theologians and religious leaders,” he said. “If we can receive a high-quality religious education in our country, then nobody will want to travel to Arab countries or Pakistan.”