Life under Soviet Union wasn’t easy for Muslims. After a promising beginning due to Lenin’s religious politics, things changed radically with the coming to power by Stalin. The Stalinist URSS terminated the religious liberty granted to Islam, from that time seen as the most dangerous threat to the integrity of Soviet republic. Worst comes to the worst in 1959, when the new First Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, Nikita Khrushchev, launched a campaign for forced atheism in Central Asia. Despite this, Islam survived and continued to glow under the ashes of repression.
Whit democratic openings put in place by Gorbachev, Islamic movements entered, in fact, political life of Soviet Union before and of former Soviet States later. Soon young people opposed to brothers collaborating with authorities, in blatant contrast with previous generations. In new Central Asian States Islam has been used by autocrats to create a national identity as well, but then has been repressed as a menace of instability in the name of combating terrorism. Nowadays the opposition to undemocratic regimes offers a leading role to Islamic movements and to their popular support.
Now the Islamic presence in the political landscape, timidly multiparty, is challenged. Young generations are increasingly becoming more radical, someone would use the achievements of their fathers to introduce a more Islamic vision of life. Central Asian Islam, moderate due to its origin in the Hanafi school, faced with the Soviet regime where political and religious were distinct spheres. This makes difficult attempting to establish a theocracy in a not officially Muslim context, the risk is an hard blow for the social structure.
The crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union has encouraged the proliferation of Wahabi radical influences, especially in the Fergana Valley that is one of the “hottest” areas in Central Asia. With anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan, Jihadist ideas about Islamic unity spread in the region clashing, however, against ethnic rivalries of Central Asian populations. The role of Afghanistan as a spring of radicalism is absolutely crucial, for example has been here the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) has taken an internationalist turn.
Islam in Central Asia must deal with the heritage of cultural and religious earlier traditions, often shamanic typical of nomadic peoples. Some time ago in Kyrgyzstan Islamic movements took action for approval of laws against the Ala Kachuu, a sort of bride abduction. This ritual has an ancient origin and has been recovered in the days of USSR, for building a Kyrgyz identity decided in Moscow. In opinion of Koyrun Begum, interviewed by the author and member of the NGO Restlessbeings, Muslims of Kyrgyzstan don’t consider themselves wrong by the new laws more harsh for kidnappers. He adds that according to the Islamic law, spouses must be willing to marriage.
This is just an example showing as Central Asian Islam is by full right included in a political context where the civil society can try to claim its rights. This is hardy challenged by a young generation of radical mullah didn’t live the Communist era; for them theocracy is an answer to people’s needs. An Islam therefore facing on the one hand corrupt and autocratic regimes, and on the other a discontented young population.