When Ismoil told his parents that he wanted to attend one of Osh’s newly opened madrasahs and become an imam, his parents thought it a bad idea. The year was 1994, and their dusty corner of southern Kyrgyzstan had only a handful of mosques – a legacy of the Soviet Union’s tight control over religion. His parents worried Ismoil would not earn enough to feed himself.
Twenty years later, Ismoil is a sought-after religious authority whose blessing is often courted by local politicians. He lives comfortably amid a religious revival in Kyrgyzstan.
But now imams like Ismoil – who declined to give his full name for fear of state reprisals – face a fresh challenge. The government is questioning their qualifications, worried that poorly educated imams could either be spreading radical ideas, or are not capable of countering them.
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