ISLAM and MUSLIMS IN TURKMENISTAN

      

General Information

Total area: 188,455 sq mi (488,100 sq km)

Population (2007 est.): 5,136,262

Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Ashgabat, 727,700

Other large cities: Chardzhou, 213,500; Tashauz, 160,400

Monetary unit: Manat

Languages: Turkmen 72%; Russian 12%; Uzbek 9%, other 7%

Ethnicity/race: Turkmen 85%, Uzbek 5%, Russian 4%, other 6% (2003)

Religions: Islam 89%, Eastern Orthodox 9%, unknown 2%

Literacy rate: 98.9% (1999 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2007 est.): $26.73 billion; per capita $5,200. Real growth rate: 11.6% (IMF est.). Inflation: 6.4%.

Turkmenistan (formerly Turkmenia) is bounded by the Caspian Sea in the west, Kazakhstan in the north, Uzbekistan in the east, and Iran and Afghanistan in the south. About nine-tenths of Turkmenistan is desert, chiefly the Kara-Kum. One of the world's largest sand deserts, it is approximately 138,966 sq mi (360,000 sq km).

Turkmenistan was once part of the ancient Persian Empire. The Turkmen people were originally pastoral nomads and some of them continued this way of life up into the 20th century, living in transportable dome-shaped felt tents. The territory was ruled by the Seljuk Turks in the 11th century. The Mongols of Ghenghis Khan conquered the land in the 13th century; they dominated the area for the next two centuries until they were deposed in the late 15th century by invading Uzbeks. Prior to the 19th century, Turkmenia was divided into two lands, one belonging to the khanate of Khiva and the other belonging to the khanate of Bukhara. In 1868, the khanate of Khiva was made part of the Russian Empire and Turkmenia became known as the Transcaspia Region of Russian Turkistan. Turkmenistan was later formed out of the Turkistan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, founded in 1922, and was made an independent Soviet Socialist Republic on May 13, 1925. It was the poorest of the Soviet republics.

Turkmenistan declared its sovereignty in Aug. 1990 and became a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States on Dec. 21, 1991, together with ten other former Soviet republics.

Islamic History and Muslims

Traditionally, the Turkmen of Turkmenistan, like their kin in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, are Sunni Muslims. Shia Muslims, the other main branch of Islam, are not numerous in Turkmenistan, and the Shia religious practices of the Azerbaijani and Kurdish minorities are not politicized. Although the great majority of Turkmen readily identify themselves as Muslims and acknowledge Islam as an integral part of their cultural heritage, many are non-believers and support a revival of the religion's status only as an element of national revival. They do not attend mosque services or demonstrate their adherence publicly, except through participation in officially sanctioned national traditions associated with Islam on a popular level, including life-cycle events such as weddings, burials, and pilgrimages.

History and structure

Islam came to the Turkmen primarily through the activities of Sufi (see Glossary) shaykhs rather than through the mosque and the "high" written tradition of sedentary culture. These shaykhs were holy men critical in the process of reconciling Islamic beliefs with pre-Islamic belief systems; they often were adopted as "patron saints" of particular clans or tribal groups, thereby becoming their "founders." Reformulation of communal identity around such figures accounts for one of the highly localized developments of Islamic practice in Turkmenistan.

Integrated within the Turkmen tribal structure is the "holy" tribe called övlat . Ethnographers consider the övlat, of which six are active, as a revitalized form of the ancestor cult injected with Sufism. According to their genealogies, each tribe descends from the Prophet Muhammad through one of the Four Caliphs. Because of their belief in the sacred origin and spiritual powers of the övlat representatives, Turkmen accord these tribes a special, holy status. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the övlat tribes became dispersed in small, compact groups in Turkmenistan. They attended and conferred blessings on all important communal and life-cycle events, and also acted as mediators between clans and tribes. The institution of the övlat retains some authority today. Many of the Turkmen who are revered for their spiritual powers trace their lineage to an övlat, and it is not uncommon, especially in rural areas, for such individuals to be present at life-cycle and other communal celebrations.

In the Soviet era, all religious beliefs were attacked by the communist authorities as superstition and "vestiges of the past." Most religious schooling and religious observance were banned, and the vast majority of mosques were closed. An official Muslim Board of Central Asia with a headquarters in Tashkent was established during World War II to supervise Islam in Central Asia. For the most part, the Muslim Board functioned as an instrument of propaganda whose activities did little to enhance the Muslim cause. Atheist indoctrination stifled religious development and contributed to the isolation of the Turkmen from the international Muslim community. Some religious customs, such as Muslim burial and male circumcision, continued to be practiced throughout the Soviet period, but most religious belief, knowledge, and customs were preserved only in rural areas in "folk form" as a kind of unofficial Islam not sanctioned by the state-run Spiritual Directorate.


Religion after independence

The current government oversees official Islam through a structure inherited from the Soviet period. Turkmenistan's Muslim Religious Board, together with that of Uzbekistan, constitutes the Muslim Religious Board of Mavarannahr. The Mavarannahr board is based in Tashkent and exerts considerable influence in appointments of religious leaders in Turkmenistan. The governing body of Islamic judges (Kaziat) is registered with the Turkmenistan Ministry of Justice, and a council of religious affairs under the Cabinet of Ministers monitors the activities of clergy. Individuals who wish to become members of the official clergy must attend official religious institutions; a few, however, may prove their qualifications simply by taking an examination.

Since 1990, efforts have been made to regain some of the cultural heritage lost under Soviet rule. President Niyazov has ordered that basic Islamic principles be taught in public schools. More religious institutions, including religious schools and mosques, have appeared, many with the support of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Turkey. Religious classes are held in both the schools and the mosques, with instruction in Arabic language, the Koran (Quran) and the hadith, and the history of Islam.

Turkmenistan's government stresses its secular nature and its support of freedom of religious belief, as embodied in the 1991 Law on Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Organizations in the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic and institutionalized in the 1992 constitution. That document guarantees the separation of church and state; it also removes any legal basis for Islam to play a role in political life by prohibiting proselytizing, the dissemination of "unofficial" religious literature, discrimination based on religion, and the formation of religious political parties. In addition, the government reserves the right to appoint and dismiss anyone who teaches religious matters or who is a member of the clergy. Since independence, the Islamic leadership in Turkmenistan has been more assertive, but in large part it still responds to government control. The official governing body of religious judges gave its official support to President Niyazov in the June 1992 elections.

On the other hand, some Muslim leaders are opposed to the secular concept of government and especially to a government controlled by former communists (see Centers of Political Power, this ch.). Some official leaders and teachers working outside the official structure have vowed to increase the population's knowledge of Islam, increase Islam's role in society, and broaden adherence to its tenets. Alarmed that such activism may aggravate tensions between Sunnis and Shiites and especially alienate Orthodox Slavs, the government has drawn up plans to elevate the council of religious affairs to ministry status in an effort to regulate religious activities more tightly.


Local modifications

Awdy Kulyýew, the first Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan and later a political opposition leader, said Turkmenbashi Saparmurat Niyazov allows Muslims to practice their religion only to the extent it furthers his "personal enrichment." He also said that Turkmen are not very religious, but will become religious in the future in light of the Niyazov administration's policies. He criticized the future type of Islam he predicted would be practiced in Turkmenistan as "illiterate" and an "exploitation of Islam, not real Islam."

Ertogul Gazy Mosque in Ashgabat

The Turkmenbashy Spiritual Mosque

Kipchak Mosque in Ashgabat

Geok-Tepe mosque

 

Islam and Muslims in Turkmenistan

 Islamic Centers and Organizations

Ertogrul Mosque, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Tajir Company, Sarakhs, akhal
Phone: 993-(00)137-21940
Hadji Magtym Mosque, Esenguly, Balkan velayat
Az-Zamakhshary Mosque, Tagta
Magtymguly Musk, Gyaurs, konya
mosque, Nebitdag
Az-Zamakhshary Mosque, Tagta
  Ertogrul Mosque, Ashgabat
  Hadji Magtym Mosque, Esenguly
  Magtymguly Musk, Gyaurs
 
mosque, Nebitdag

   Muslim Owned Business

Tajir Company, Sarakhs

References
Islam in Turkmenistan ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_Turkmenistan  , September, 2008).
Info please ( http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0108058.html ,  September, 2008).
Islam Finder ( http://www.islamicfinder.org/cityPrayerNew.php?country=turkmenistan   , September, 2008).
Anonymous, Documents from Representatives of Islamic Organizations in Turkmenistan, September 2008.