UZBEKISTAN: Ramadan Appeal For Mosque Reopening Rejected.

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 6 December 2001

A mosque opened in the Uzbek town of Namangan in the 1980s when religious freedom began to arrive in the Soviet Union, but closed five years ago by the regional authorities, is still closed to worshippers, despite repeated attempts by local Muslims to reopen it and register it officially. "It is now the holy month of Ramadan, and we have asked permission to meet at the mosque, even if only during the fast, but we are not even allowed that," Abdugani Yusupov, a member of the action committee campaigning for the reopening of the Panjer mosque, told Keston News Service in Namangan on 26 November. "The nearest mosque is four kilometres [two and a half miles] away and it is very difficult for us old people to make such a long journey." However, the head of the local mahalla (a small district within a town), who has blocked the application, dismissed the Muslims' appeal. "There's nothing dreadful in the fact that the nearest mosque to our mahalla is four kilometres away," Mumir Hajibayev told Keston. "According to Islam, the more difficulties a person overcomes on their way to God, the better."

Yusupov reported that the Muslims submitted their documents to register the mosque about two months ago, but have not so far received any reply. "We are constantly asking the head of the Zarafshan mahalla committee Mumir Hajibayev when the authorities will at last register our mosque, and he constantly assures us that it will go through very soon, but we have now stopped believing him."

The regional centre of Namangan is situated in Uzbekistan's sector of the Fergana valley. This is not the first time that the authorities have refused to register small mosques in the mahallas, where mainly elderly people meet (see KNS 30 August 2001). The Panjer mosque, which can accommodate up to 500 people, served the town's Zarafshan and Navoi mahallas until it was closed in 1996 by the Namangan regional administration. In 1998 a group of believers tried to register the mosque with the regional administration, but was refused.

"I know nothing about believers' attempts to register the Panjer mosque," Rustam Atymyrzayev, chief specialist on issues relating to public organisations at the Namangan town administration, told Keston on 26 November. "We are simply an intermediate link in the registration of a mosque. If all the documents are present, we pass them on with our letter of recommendation to the regional ministry of justice, which decides whether or not to register the mosque. All the closed mosques have been transferred into the ownership of the mahalla committees and that is the place where you are most likely to find answers to the questions that interest you."

"We do not have very many mosques," Hajibayev told Keston on 26 November. "I am sure that if we open the Panjer mosque, then after barely a month has gone by no more than five people will be meeting there."

Gulyam Halmatov, head of the Namangan branch of the Independent Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, believes the refusal to allow the Panjer mosque to reopen is typical. "The authorities are giving the mahalla committees secret instructions to 'hold back' believers' attempts to register a local mosque," he told Keston on 26 November. "Often, the mahalla authorities simply deceive the ill-educated elderly people, and do not even pass on to the city administration the documents necessary for registration that they have collected." (END)