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Kyrgyzstan Testing Clerics’ Knowledge of Islam

Since October 2014, the Muftiate, a quasi-government Kyrgyz agency also known as the Muslim Spiritual Board, has required all imams in the country to pass tests on Sharia law and Arabic. The Kyrgyz government is concerned that imams, such as this religious leader at a mosque in Osh, could be spreading radical ideas. (Photo: David Trilling)

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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Kyrgyzstan Testing Clerics’ Knowledge of Islam

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