Uzbekistan plays a pivotal role in the maintenance of regional stability and religious tolerance in Central Asia.
For the past few years the dynamics of developmental processes in international politics have witnessed that Central Asia has turned into one of the most critical regions of the planet, the region whose processes have a substantial impact on global security and stability. Uzbekistan, the geographical, geopolitical, cultural and historical center of the region, with a population of over 50% of the total population of Central Asia, undoubtedly attracts the attention of not only the official networks of overseas countries but also political scientists, law experts, prominent political and public figures and specialists in other social sciences.
They unanimously recognize that the stability of Uzbekistan is in practice identical with the stability of the entire Central Asian region. The political reforms, consistent growth and the strengthening of the economic capacity of the state as well as the positive processes in other spheres of life have had a positive influence on the whole region. It has become an axiomatic fact that Uzbekistan has been universally recognized as one of the centers of the formation and development of Islamic culture and philosophy, spirituality and education.
Islam remains a guardian of the high moral values of man. As is known, Islam started to become the core of the culture of the region’s peoples back in the 8th century, but it is Central Asian society’s ancient and deeply rooted traditions of religious tolerance that served as groundwork for the strengthening and development of Islam in this region.
The atmosphere of inter-faith rapport and mutual understanding in modern Uzbekistan was predetermined by the entire evolution of spiritual and philosophical thought of the Uzbek people. The legacy of prominent thinkers of Transaxonia such as Imam Al-Bukhari, Abu Mansur al-Maturidi, Makhmud az-Zamakhshari, Najmiddin Kubro, Baha’uddin Naqshband and others adequately reflect the general spiritual atmosphere of accord that exists among religious communities and confessions.
Thanks to the consistent political action of the Uzbek Government, a great amount of work has been done in the past 15 years to restore our spiritual, historical and religious legacy.
The Constitution and laws of the Republic of Uzbekistan guarantee all basic rights and freedoms, including those concerning religion. As of today, around 2222 religious organizations of 16 faiths have been registered by bodies of Justice of the Republic. All believers, irrespective of their nationality and religion, enjoy conditions created by the State that allow them to freely observe rites and rituals and celebrate religious holidays.
In this respect, the attempts of a number of organizations and countries, in particular US Department of State, to give politicized and opportunist assessments of situations in the sphere of religious freedoms in Uzbekistan have been assessed by the international public and experts as another attempt to interfere in the domestic affairs of Uzbekistan.
In this regard, UT has provided opinions and assessments of a number of international experts:
“In the Uzbek society religious tolerance is a norm of life”
As Seong Bung Doo, the President of Sogang University, said, Uzbekistan is a country where representatives of traditional religions have all the conditions for free religious practices. In his opinion, in the Uzbek society religious tolerance is a norm of life. He also believes that a special attention is paid to the maintenance of peace and accord, ensuring of freedoms of religion for the representatives of all faiths, including Muslims, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Catholics and others.
Seong Bung Doo noted that Uzbekistan’s experience in achieving mutual understanding and respect among religions is always supported in conferences, seminars and meetings organized by the UNO.
In particular, he said “The politics in the sphere of religion pursued by the President of Uzbekistan has given the representatives of diverse faiths an opportunity for a true freedom of religion, and the people of Uzbekistan will continue its independent path of construction of a democratic state with a powerful market economy.”
“Representatives of different faiths live in peace and harmony and freely observe religious rites in Uzbekistan”
Zamil Saidi, Head of the OIC Board for Political Issues highly appraised the politics of religion pursued by the Uzbek Government and expressed perplexity at the actions of US Department of State with respect to the inclusion of Uzbekistan in the said list. He noted that thanks to the attempts of the Uzbek Government to reinforce religious tolerance, representatives of different faiths live in peace and harmony and freely observe religious rites in Uzbekistan.
“American followers of Naqshband teachings visit the holy shrine of Bahauddin Naqshband in Bukhara on a regular basis.”
A. Alexiyev, Vice-President of the Center for Security Politics (USA), holds that it is necessary to clearly sort radical and moderate interpretations of Islam. Historically, Central Asia has been an educational center for the spread of moderate Islam. Islamic teachings such as those of Khanafiyya, Yassaviyya, Naqshbandiyya as well as Sufism originated in Central Asia. As was noted by the expert, the American followers of the Naqshband teaching visit the holy shrine of Bahauddin Naqshband on a regular basis.
“The actions of particular western states… promote the increase in distrust and hostility among world civilizations”
Professor Turki bin as-Sakhuw, Chief of the Department of Scientific Research under Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islam University in Ar-Riyad, stressed that Uzbekistan is the motherland of prominent Islamic theologians and thinkers such as Imam al-Bukhari, Imam at-Termizi, Burhanuddin al-Marginani, and al-Maturidi, who made an outstanding contribution to the development of Islamic civilization. In his words, the actions of particular western states carried out under the slogans of bringing democracy, human rights protection, observance of freedom of speech and religion are just an interference with the domestic issues of Muslim states and promote the increase in distrust and hostility among world civilizations, which can be observed in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also noted that during his visit to Uzbekistan he witnessed the radical transformations in the political, social and economic spheres in the Republic. The Uzbek nation has all the opportunities and rights to observe religious rites.
“Rational people will be able to correctly understand and appraise the Uzbek experience of ensuring genuine religious freedoms”
Fuad al-Mekrad, Director of Kuwait branch of the Arab Open University, also highly appraised the successes of Uzbekistan in ensuring fundamental religious freedoms. He noted that “since olden times Uzbekistan has been a center where the most prominent scholars lived, worked and made a huge contribution to the development of Islamic civilization. Moreover, this has been recognized by the entire Islamic world”. At the same time, he underlined that the consecutive steps the Uzbek Government undertook in order to restore the rich cultural and historical heritage are of paramount importance for the modern generation and deserve to be highly evaluated because this is how a nation relates to its authentic spiritual values.
“The insurance in Uzbekistan of equal rights for all citizens has been raised to the level of state policy”
Seon Ju Hong, Chairman of the Korean Islamic Federation, mentioned the well-known fact that Uzbekistan is one of the centers where Islamic culture, law and philosophy formed and developed while theologians and philosophers who lived and worked on this land are highly revered in the Muslim world. According to him, it is well known that numerous nationalities and followers of diverse religions live in peace and accord in Uzbekistan.
Seon Ju Hong underscored that the insurance of equal rights for all citizens in Uzbekistan irrespective of their religion and nationality has been raised to the level of state policy while the atmosphere of kindness and mercy creates an opportunity for a harmonious coexistence of the representatives of all nationalities.
In this regard, the Korean religious leader was astonished by the US Department of State inclusion of Uzbekistan in the so-called “list of countries of particular concern regarding religious freedoms”. He expressed his conviction that Uzbekistan’s successive policy contributes to the maintenance of the atmosphere of not only religious tolerance but also of peace and stability in entire Central Asia.
“Uzbekistan is a positive and instructive model for many developed countries of the world, including Japan”
Masatoshi Nodzaki, the President of the Japanese Association of National Arts, also shared his opinion of the erroneous views of western countries on the situation with regard to religious freedoms in Uzbekistan. In M. Nodzaki’s words, he personally witnessed the full international and interfaith harmony in Uzbekistan, the motherland of illustrious theologians, scholars and public figures. M. Nodzaki was elated in noting the careful attitude of the Uzbek people toward the Buddhist burial places in the south of Uzbekistan.
In M. Nodzaki’s opinion, “the factor of the peaceful coexistence of different religions and the tolerance of the Uzbek nation is clearly pronounced on the background of Muslim mosques, Christian churches, Jewish synagogues, etc.”
He underlined that “Uzbekistan is quite a positive and instructive model for many developed countries, including Japan.”
“Western countries give a wrong interpretation of the situation with regard to religious freedoms in Uzbekistan”
As was noted by Akira Matsunaga, a researcher of “Sasakava” Fund, “the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan adopted in 1992 guarantees the freedom of religion”. According to A. Matsunaga, the high literacy rate of the Uzbek people has played its role in the development of secularism in Uzbekistan and has prevented the spread of the ideas of religious radicalism and fundamentalism among the population. A. Matsunaga believes that western countries misunderstand and thus give a wrong interpretation of the situation with regard to religious freedoms in Uzbekistan and Central Asia as a whole.
A. Matsunaga also expressed the opinion that the Uzbek people realize the importance of tolerance toward different religions and confessions, which has become the most important factor of peaceful coexistence of diverse nationalities and religions in Uzbekistan.
“The region may become the most liberal and progressive part of the international Muslim community”
Anders Wimbush, a fellow of Hudson Institute, noted that the disintegration of the USSR resulted in the emergence in Central Asia of states where traditional and moderate Islam prevails, and it is necessary to cooperate closely with it in the cause of fighting against radical Islam. In his view, if the United States succeeds in “helping the Central Asian states to eradicate these extremist ideas in the initial stage, the region may become the most liberal and progressive part of the international Muslim community”.
“Uzbekistan has elaborated unique methods of countering extremism by developing religious education”
Yevgeniy Novikov, a fellow of the American Council for Foreign Politics, an expert on Islam has given his assessment of the religious situation in Uzbekistan and the activities of extremist groups in Central Asia. In his opinion, the West, including the USA, must understand Uzbekistan the same way as it understands the Government of Egypt.
The states of the region realize that effective resistance to extremist ideology can be gained only through an active support of a traditional and tolerant Islam. “My trip to Central Asia and my research made me conclude that Uzbekistan has elaborated unique methods of countering extremism by developing religious education”.
In this context, he highly evaluated the activities of Tashkent Islam University in the development of religious education and advocacy of the values of a tolerant Islam. Mr. Novikov underlined that the scientific and practical works and other pertinent literature published by this university should be translated into other languages of the world. In his opinion, these materials could be used in educational institutions in Afghanistan and other Arab countries. Also, Novikov is in disagreement with the thesis that Islam is “an aggressive religion” and poses a threat to the west.
“Unfounded statements regarding religious rights in Uzbekistan”
Ukeru Magosaki, a Professor of Political Science, University of Defense (Japan), former Ambassador of Japan to Uzbekistan, notes that the statements with regard to the freedom of religion and religious rights in Uzbekistan are absolutely unfounded.
Mentioning the notorious violations of human rights by the United States in Guantanamo military base, U. Magosaki accentuated the need for an unbiased approach on part of western stated to the situation concerning religious and other rights in Uzbekistan.
“Uzbekistan… is ensuring the observance of the religious freedoms for the representatives of all faiths, which can be exemplified by the Korean diaspora”
Azmi Halid, the Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment of Malaysia, who visited Uzbekistan in 2003 and 2006, stated that through its balanced policy the Uzbek Government is succeeding in ensuring tolerance and religious freedoms for the representatives of all faiths, their traditions and customs, which will help avoid tension among representatives of different nationalities in the Republic. The numerous Korean diaspora exemplifies this tendency. In his opinion, the state policy which is being successfully implemented in this sphere given the numerous nationalities and 16 faiths is worthy of note. In spite of the predominance of Muslims, Uzbekistan equally celebrates holidays related to other religions.
The holy Muslim holidays, Ramadan and Kurban Khait, widely celebrated in Uzbekistan since 1991, are widely approved by Muslims in Malaysia, who comprise more than half of its population. Many Malaysians have a desire to visit holy shrines in Uzbekistan and pay tribute to the great statesmen, scholars and thinkers who left a great historical heritage.