Perceptions of corruption penetrate just about every aspect of life in Kyrgyzstan, including the spiritual side. For years, the Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca required of every able Muslim – has been beset by allegations of graft involving those responsible for distributing the limited number of places.
Given the obligation involved, local religious leaders, seeing no alternative, often tolerate, and even tacitly endorse, the payment of bribes by the faithful in order to secure Hajj slots.
“I performed Hajj this year, which was a very special and sacred event in my life, and I feel very happy about this,” beamed 55-year-old Makhamazhan, a trader from Jalal-Abad province. “I had to pay a $300 bribe to have my papers processed. I am a believer, and I know it is sinful not only to take bribes, but also to offer them, but it was something unavoidable.”
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