Islamic fundamentalist group still active in Kyrgyzstan despite ban and crackdown

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Kyrgyz security services say the banned religious group Yakyn Inkar remains active in the country, running underground schools and promoting its ideology despite being banned as an extremist organization five years ago.

At least two suspected cell leaders from Yakyn Inkar were arrested in separate raids in southern Osh province and the northern Chui region in late March and May, respectively.

Security services say Yakyn Inkar has at least 50 ‘active members’ in Chui alone, despite efforts by the government and state-backed religious authorities to root out the group as a ‘threat’ to the secular system from Kyrgyzstan.

The alleged local leader of Chui reportedly runs several underground Islamic schools, or madrasas, and dormitories in the province. The 51-year-old, whose name has not been released, was arrested along with four other suspected members of Yakyn Inkar, police said.

In a series of raids in Chui, authorities confiscated books, flyers and computer data storage devices containing material promoting the Islamic fundamentalist group’s ideology, regional police said earlier this week. this month.

Yakyn Inkar was designated an extremist organization by a district court in Bishkek on June 15, 2017. In 2018, it was also banned in neighboring Kazakhstan.

The Kyrgyz government accuses the relatively unknown movement of seeking to overthrow the secular government and install an Islamic caliphate.

The government’s view of Yakyn Inkar is shared by the country’s highest Islamic authority, the state-backed Muslim Spiritual Administration of Kyrgyzstan (DUMK), as well as many experts.

But many people in Kyrgyzstan believe Yakyn Inkar poses no direct threat to the government and there is no evidence the group has a political agenda.

They add that members of the organization should be allowed to practice Islam as they wish, citing the practice in most Western countries of allowing the existence of conservative Christian religions and other non-dominant religions if they do not harm anyone.

Yakyn Inkar first appeared in 2014 in Issyk-Kul and Naryn regions and quickly spread to other parts of Kyrgyzstan, including Jalal-Abad, Chui and Osh provinces.

A mosque in the Naryn region of Kyrgyzstan (file photo)

At the time of the court’s decision, some experts estimated that Yakyn Inkar had gained around 1,000 members in Kyrgyzstan, although the actual figure is unknown.

Yakyn Inkar loosely translates from Arabic as “complete disavowal”, and the band uses the phrase as a shorter version of “denying everything but God”.

Followers of Yakyn Inkar say they adhere to a pure form of Islam and shun all worldly affairs.

They reject material and cultural values ​​and shun modern health care and secular schools. According to the Kyrgyz media, they also deny the right of other religions to exist.

Kyrgyz authorities sounded the alarm when it was learned that hundreds of children were banned from school by their families because of their parents’ religious beliefs. Many relatives have been identified as supporters of Yakyn Inkar.

Male followers of Yakyn Inkar often wear a shalwar kameez – a long loose shirt with wide ankle-length trousers – commonly worn in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The wives and other female relatives of some Yakyn Inkar members were seen in covering clothes and veils.

Offshoot of Tablighi Jamaat

It is unclear whether Yakyn Inkar is still operational in Kazakhstan, where the group was banned in 2018.

Kazakh state media reported that several “members of the radical Yakyn Inkar group” had been arrested in connection with the deadly riots in Kazakhstan that began with anti-government protests in early January.

He said various weapons and religious literature were confiscated from members of the group, but did not provide further details.

Yakyn Inkar is considered an offshoot of Tablighi Jamaat, a Sunni Islamic missionary movement that says its goal is to build an Islamic society based on Quranic teachings, while avoiding political activities.

Kyrgyzstan’s neighbors Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, as well as Russia and Saudi Arabia, have banned Tablighi Jamaat, declaring it an extremist organization.

After several debates in parliament, Kyrgyzstan decided not to ban the Tablighi Jamaat, which has about 20,000 followers in the country, according to some experts.

Members of Tablighi Jamaat reportedly helped the government identify and track Yakyn Inkar members after the ban was announced.

Following the Yakyn Inkar court ruling, Kyrgyz law enforcement agencies arrested an unknown number of its members across the country for preaching extremism.

“Schools are not compatible with Islam”

Several followers of Yakyn Inkar have been fined and even jailed for denying their children a secular education in recent years.

Among them were a married couple from the village of Ananyevo in the Issyk-Kul region – Zhyrgal Asanbekov and Baktygul Abdrakhmanova – who were sentenced to two years in prison each for banning their two daughters from going to school. school.

Unmoved by the punishment, Abdrakhmanova told RFE/RL at the time that she stood by her view that secular school curricula are not compatible with Islam.

“I would like to send my children to school, I would like to live according to the constitution. But the constitution and Sharia [law] are not in sync with each other,” she said. “I cannot go against the laws of God.”

Similar cases have been reported in other parts of Issyk-Kul as well as in the western province of Jalal-Abad, prompting calls to strip such parents of their parental rights.

To combat groups like Yakyn Inkar, the government has also launched a nationwide campaign to prevent the spread of extremist religious ideologies, especially among young people. Mainstream Islamic figures were incorporated into the campaign.

Officials and imams are holding meetings with people to warn them of the dangers of being brainwashed by various radical groups, including Yakyn Inkar, Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Salafist movement, police said.

Imams and other religious figures have been tasked with carrying out so-called explanatory work to those attending prayers at the mosque.

Some Kyrgyz experts and officials have warned that religious extremism cannot be eradicated by banning certain groups and cracking down on their supporters.

“The religious illiteracy of our people is one of the main reasons why people follow groups like Yakyn Inkar,” says DUMK department head Jorobay Shergazyiev.

“Due to their lack of knowledge of religion, they fall victim to such preaching and trust all kinds of unverified information.”

The DUMK has worked in all provinces to promote traditional and moderate Islamic teachings, Shergazyiev said.

Kyrgyzstan, a predominantly Muslim country of about 6.7 million people, has banned more than 20 religious groups which it has designated as an extremist and/or terrorist organization.

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