The Soviet Legacy
During the Soviet regime the government showed an anti-religious attitude towards the public. The legacy of this attitude is still present in the government, which has caused problems for groups in the country. The majority of the Kyrgyzstani people, about 75 %, are Sunni Muslims, follows the Hanafi School of law. The Hanafi School is considered moderate, and is accepted by the government as a “traditional” religion. In the later years more conservative versions of Islam from Saudi Arabia has spread in the south of the country, challenging traditional Islamic norms and practice. The government now fears the Islamic revivalism might cause tensions and security risks in the country.
About 20 % of the population belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church which is the biggest Christian group. The Russian Orthodox Church is also considered as one of the traditional religions. The rest of the population mostly belongs to various kinds of religious communities; The Catholic Church, Orthodox Judaism, Buddhism, Evangelical Church communities and New Religious movements such as the Baha’i-movement, the Church of Scientology and Messianic Judaism.
Even though the Kyrgyz’s constitution secures freedom of religion or belief there are certain limitations in the current legislation on religious organizations that are problematic. Some communities have been denied registration as a religious community, which makes it difficult for the communities to congregate. There is censorship on religious material and there have been complaints on the procedure on registration of property used by the religious communities. Other issues has been that traditional Hanafi Islam has been dominating the society making the government skeptical toward newer Islamic communities such as the Ahmadiyya, but also Tengrism, which is a syncretic religion of nomadic folk religion and Islam. There have also been disputes in the public whether school girls should be allowed to wear hijab at school, and if male members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses can skip military service.
The transition from the Soviet regime with a totalitarian state control towards an open and free society is long and hard for the young nation. However, it is imperative for the country to ensure that it doesn’t go in the wrong direction. Too often we have seen increased radicalization and instability