UZBEKISTAN: Elderly Muslims Suffer As Kokand Mosque Closes.

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 30 August 2001

The mainly elderly Muslims who attended a small unregistered mosque in the town of Kokand in the Uzbek part of the Fergana valley have been categorically forbidden to assemble there until it has been registered with the town’s administrative authorities. An imam at the Chankatalik mosque said old age made it physically difficult for many of those who had attended to get to the town’s central mosque and he doubted whether the congregation had enough energy or financial resources to register their local mosque. However, one official of the town administration told Keston News Service that there is no need for the mosque, as Kokand already has enough other mosques.

On 2 June, officials of the police and National Security Ministry (the ex-KGB) unexpectedly raided the Chankatalik mosque in Kokand, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of the regional centre Fergana, citing the fact that it had not been registered and warning those present not to meet there again.

The deputy imam-khatyb of the Chankatalik mosque, Ubaidullo Valizhanov, described it as a ‘relatively small’ mosque attended by about 30 Muslims, mostly elderly men from the neighbourhood. ‘Our mosque can’t really be called a house of prayer in the strict sense of the word,’ he told Keston on 17 August. ‘On Fridays we go to pray at Kokand’s central mosque. On other days, we used to come together at Chankatalik: we prayed together and discussed the Koran. For us - as men advanced in years - it’s physically quite difficult to get to the central mosque, but we could go to Chankatalik every day. So Chankatalik could also be considered a religious club for the old men of our neighbourhood.’

Valizhanov is sceptical about the possibility of registering the mosque. To begin with, this requires payment of a fee to the town hakimiat (administrative authorities) of 192,000 sums (about 190 US dollars or 135 pounds sterling), a very large sum of money for the elderly, who receive an average monthly pension of less than 10,000 sums. Secondly, Valizhanov added, registration of a mosque is a cumbersome bureaucratic procedure, and the elderly men do not have the energy to get through it. Rasul Ilkhomov, head of the religious affairs department at the Kokand hakimiat, sees no need for the Chankatalik mosque to continue functioning. ‘There are already 10 mosques registered in our town,’ he told Keston by telephone on 17 August, ‘and that number is quite sufficient.’

According to Uzbekistan’s religion law, ‘religious organisations have the status of juridical persons and can carry on their activities after their registration at the Ministry of Justice or local government institutions, in the manner laid down by law’. However, as the chief specialist of the Committee for Religious Affairs in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, Begzot Kadyrov, told Keston by telephone, ‘A prayer-house must be registered in order to receive the status of juridical person. It could be regarded as violation of the law if the congregation of an unregistered house of prayer has its own leader, who preaches sermons. If people merely come together for religious discussions and prayer, there’s nothing criminal in it.’

However, Valizhanov told Keston that the members of the Chankatalik mosque’s congregation continue to be forbidden to assemble at the unregistered mosque, contrary to the religion law. (END)