Central Asia's new identity is based upon a hybrid, moderate Islam

ASIA - Dec 18, 2009

On 1 December, a debate workshop was held at CIDOB titled “Islam and Democracy in Central Asia”, and which brought some of the main Spanish specialists on the region in question together with leading experts on Central Asia from Uzbekistan, Kirgistan and Kazakhstan. The event took place within the framework of the Observatory on Central Asia, a joint project organised by CIDOB, Casa Asia and the Royal Elcano Institute.


On 1 December, a debate workshop was held at CIDOB titled “Islam and Democracy in Central Asia”, and which brought some of the main Spanish specialists on the region in question together with leading experts on Central Asia from Uzbekistan, Kirgistan and Kazakhstan. The event took place within the framework of the Observatory on Central Asia, a joint project organised by CIDOB, Casa Asia and the Royal Elcano Institute.

The debate commenced with an outline of the links between Islam and democracy, an equation in which Central Asia plays an important role, given that it has developed a hybrid, moderate Islam, marked by the experience of communism, an autochthonous religious substratum and the nomadic life along the Silk Route and its multiple influences.

The debate's participants agreed that the Hanafite school of Sunni Islam is the predominant faith in the region, a version of the religion that is moderate and distanced from the political exerting of power. Following the period under Soviet rule, a traditional Islam began to emerge in the region, this time of an official nature, and which is sometimes used as an instrument of social control. In some regions, such as Fergana Valley, where in the past violent confrontations took place between communities, a radical Islam has recently appeared that is linked with the Salafist school (from whence the Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia originates), and which has the objective of establishing a Caliphate, a supranational body governed by Islamic law. This movement has taken the form of armed insurgency (with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU), and of a subversive movement (the Hizb-u-Tahrir). The existence of Wahhabism, albeit as a minority, is used by the region's states to justify to their citizens the authoritarian nature of their control, and their fight against so-called external influences. In this patchwork of religion and politics, it became clear that Uzbekistan represents a point of reference for understanding the past, present and future of Islam in Central Asia. Also during the course of the debate, the coordinates that are traditionally used for tackling this particular issue were called into question. As some of the participants pointed out, rather than a clash of civilisations, we should be speaking of a clash of institutions, between theocracies and secular states, between democratic and authoritarian systems; an incipient conflict in which the phenomena of the proliferation and empowerment of civil society must play a crucial role, beyond those of belief or the course of history. As one of the participants noted, instead of placing ourselves in a dichotomy between democracy and Islam, it would be more correct and realistic to present the situation as a conflict between an incipient democratic Islam and an authoritarian Islam.

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Related elements:

>> CIDOB new: [04/12/2008]: Central Asia, brought closer thanks to the OAC

>> Article Anuario Asia-Pacífico (2008): José María Ferré de la Peña. Islam y política en Europa y en Asia: algunas reflexiones comparativas

>> Article Anuario Asia-Pacífico (2005): Víctor Pallejà. ¿Islam asiático? Urgencia de un nuevo mapa geocultural euroasiático

>> Opinión CIDOB [04/07/2008]: Alex González. Gobernanza en Asia Central: “cuando el árbol de la energía nos impide ver el bosque

>> Book (2008): Alex González y Carmen Claudín [eds.] Asia Central y la Seguridad Energética Global. Nuevos actores y dinámicas en Eurasia

>> Documentos CIDOB Asia 18 (2007): Lluc López i Vidal, Anahita Nasirossadat, Roger Serra i Puig y Nora Sainz Gsell. Asia Central: Gobierno, cooperación y seguridad

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