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(WEA Religious Liberty News & Analysis [email protected]) – In January 2004 Forum 18 (F18), which monitors religious freedom in Communist and former Soviet states, published the results of its survey on religious freedom in Kyrgyzstan . F18 reported, “Both registered and unregistered religious communities appear to function freely, despite a 1996 presidential decree requiring religious communities to register. …However, due to Muslim anger at conversions from Islam to Christianity, Forum 18 has been told by some that an official campaign against Christian proselytism may soon be launched.” One diplomat confided to F18 that authorities might soon launch a campaign against “proselytism” out of fear that the conversion of Muslims to Christianity may lead to social tensions and even conflict. An article that appeared on IslamOnline (IOL) on 26 June 2004 entitled “Proselytization Eats Away at Muslim Majority in Kyrgyzstan ” indicates that this threat may soon become a reality. IOL correspondent Damir Ahmad reports that according to Russian media, “Five percent of the majority Muslim population in Kyrgyzstan have converted to Christianity due to the spreading missionary work in the former Soviet republic.” According to Omurzak Mamayusupov, the director of Kyrgyzstan ‘s religious affairs committee, “The percentage of Muslims declined from 84 percent of the total population in 2001 to 79.3 percent in 2004. In terms of figures, he added, some 100,000 Muslims, of the country’s five million population, have converted to Christianity.” Mamayusupov complains about the “full swing” missionary activity that includes the distribution of literature, books and videos, the building of churches, the establishment of Christian mission organizations, and the way missionaries “entice Muslim people away from their religion”. IOL reports, “Mamayusupov warned that such organizations endanger the national security and run the risk of triggering an ethnic conflict. ‘We must nip this phenomenon in the bud to head off an ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan ,’ he said.” Mamayusupov claims that while Russian Orthodox and Muslims have lived peacefully for many years, the Catholic and Protestant missions “might ignite a religious war”. According to IOL, Mamayusupov said that the Kyrgyzstan government is therefore considering the option of establishing a religious police department to counter Christian missionary work.

Mamayusupov’s language is alarmist and offensive. He appears content to take the easy road and blame social tensions on the peaceful victims of persecution rather than on the perpetrators who would unjustly deny them their basic and constitutional right to freedom of religion. Kyrgyzstan has some 3,000 mosques, 2,000 of which have been built since the year 2000. Some 40 percent of Kyrgyzstan ‘s Muslims are Wahhabi. According to the US State Department Report on International Religious Freedom 2003, there are some 1,000 missionaries in Kyrgyzstan . Around 800 of them are Christians, primarily from Sth Korea , Germany and USA , while the others are Muslims from Saudi Arabia , Turkey and Pakistan .

One of the most extreme cases of grassroots persecution against converts occurred in the village of Kurkol in Djalalabad Oblast in January 2001. The local Muslim Religious Board complained that some 130 Muslims had recently converted to Christianity. More than one thousand locals convened a meeting and demanded that four ethnic Uzbeks, all recent converts to Christianity, leave the village. That incident was pre-war on terror. If Islamic anti-Western, anti-Christian sentiment, solidarity and identification are rising in Kyrgyzstan as much as they are rising everywhere else across the Muslim world, then we can expect social tensions to be increasing and the government to come under increasing pressure to counter Christianity. It is to be hoped that the secular and reform-minded government of President Askar Akayev will reject attempts to curtail Kyrgyzstan ‘s religious liberty.