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Kyrgyzstan: The Quiet Success of an Islamic Woman’s Group

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A girl reads a prayer during an exam hosted by women activists, including the director of Mutakallim Osh, in Osh in August 2017.

Every week, hundreds of women trickle in and out of Dilyarom Hamrakulova’s home in Aravan, a town in southern Kyrgyzstan on the border with Uzbekistan. Groups sit on the floor around a sparse room to study the Koran and talk about their lives, hopes and problems.

Quietly and unobtrusively, gatherings like these have regularly been taking place across Kyrgyzstan since 2000 under the auspices of the Mutakallim public association, a women’s educational initiative named after the Arabic term for a scholar of Islamic theology. While the group was first formed as an exercise in increasing religious awareness and to foster female solidarity in a strongly patriarchal society, its supporters see it taking an increasing role as a bulwark against the proliferation of radical ideologies.

After retiring as a school principal 15 years ago, Hamrakulova found herself at a loose end. With time to spare, she turned to reading the Koran and became inspired by what she found there.

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Nurjamal Djanibekova is a reporter based in Bishkek. Danil Usmanov is a photographer based in Bishkek.

Kyrgyzstan: The Quiet Success of an Islamic Woman’s Group

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