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By Asker Sultanov
BISHKEK – The Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Kyrgyzstan (DUMK) has ordered a comprehensive internal reorganisation to improve its effectiveness against extremism and to generally improve its spiritual guidance to the country.
The DUMK is Kyrgyzstan's largest Muslim association and closely monitors the activities of all imams and mosques, providing guidance for most of the country's religious organisations, DUMK head Rakhmatullah Hajji Egemberdiyev told Central Asia Online.
The reorganisation is needed to ensure that the country's religious institutions maintain the highest standards in offering spiritual guidance, community leadership, and a safe and stable environment free from Islamic radicals, he said.
The DUMK is making the moves as part of a broader effort to counter ideas that radicals and extremists are spreading, Egemberdiyev said.
"Radically minded Muslims, with generous support from sponsors (abroad), actively propagate their ideas via the internet," he said. "In that sense, the official Islamic clergy has lagged behind the extremists."
The mufti's office actively resists religious extremism, he said.
"That's why we want the state and the media to give us free airtime on national and local TV channels to show educational religious programmes to Kyrgyzstani citizens," Egemberdiyev said.
Restructuring should allow muftiate to better counter extremism
Over the years, the mufti's office has been criticised for not paying enough attention to ideological work, contended Zhashasyn Kyrgyzstan Party leader Toktaim Umetaliyeva. "Far from doing its best to counter extremism, the DUMK itself has become 'infected' with extremist ideas," she said.
The reorganisation comes in response to that criticism and it should provide the DUMK with a better opportunity to work against the spread of extremism, Egemberdiyev said.
The DUMK effectively manages the organisations under its control, argued Egemberdiyev, though he agreed that imams often lack experience. The DUMK has taken a number of steps to tackle the problems it faces and will continue to do so during the reorganisation, he said.
"Our short-term goals include doing a better job of organising this year's Hajj, writing a new DUMK charter, and convening a national assembly of Muslims to approve that charter and elect the supreme mufti (religious leader)," DUMK spokesman Esen Omurakulov said."Our strategic goal is to unite all Muslim leaders and communities under the mufti's guidance to preserve national stability, unity and peace and to boost all-round social development."
Another facet of the effort calls for the DUMK to join forces with government agencies and the public to conduct education and information campaigns as well as working to control the spread of extremist literature, Omurakulov said.
"Also, in co-operation with secular and religious academic circles, it will be holding roundtables, seminars and international conferences on the subject," he said.
Expanding the work of law enforcement
One of the roles that MP Tursunbai Bakir uulu would like to see the DUMK assume is to more actively fight extremism and terrorism, a task fully delegated to law enforcement today.
"The DUMK should educate the public to a degree enabling anyone to understand the dangers of radical Islamism full well," he told Central Asia Online. "The mufti's office has the means to conduct full-scale ideological work, given what it earns from donations and the Hajj."
The DUMK spokesman agreed with that recommendation.
"The Kyrgyz have grown more educated in religious matters in the past few years," Omurakulov said, "but that's not enough still. Many people can't tell a 'traditional' Muslim from one who's fallen into the traps of destructive groups or individuals."
To fight religious extremism effectively, the DUMK needs support from both the government and community organisations, Omurakulov stressed.
"Law enforcement and educational institutions need to employ graduates of Islamic schools and theological departments of universities who can easily differentiate an ordinary believer from a radically minded person," he said.