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Central Asia: Authorities Stiffen Control Over Pilgrimage

Tighter government regulations on pilgrimage to Mecca are causing discontent among Muslims in the Ferghana Valley. While Uzbek and Kyrgyz authorities justify the measures on security grounds, observers say the regulation is fueling official corruption and extortion.

For Muslims, the pilgrimage to Mecca, or hajj, is an important religious duty. But local officials have long viewed the journey with suspicion, fearing the influx of inflammatory Islamic radicalism from abroad.

With this year's hajj slated to begin at the end of December, Uzbek and Kyrgyz authorities are moving to regulate the process more tightly. The Saudi government annually allots Uzbekistan a quota of 25,000 pilgrims. However, in 2005 only 4,200 individuals received permits to make the pilgrimage. A decree recently adopted by the administration of Namangan -- a province located in the Uzbek part of the Ferghana Valley -- has restricted pilgrimages to those aged between 40 and 65 years. Other Uzbek provinces are reportedly preparing to implement similar measures.

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Alisher Khamidov is a PhD Candidate at School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC.

Central Asia: Authorities Stiffen Control Over Pilgrimage

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