Andijani governor banned the azan (call for the Moslem prayer)
While official Tashkent is telling everyone within earshot how nobody in Uzbekistan encroaches on the believers' rights, local authorities in the southern part of the country impose restrictions on religious life. Some restrictions were imposed by Ahmajan Usmonov, Andijan Hokim or Governor for just over a month. For starters, preaching mullahs were told in no uncertain terms to stay away from wedding parties. Usmonov banned the azan after that, the call for the Moslem prayer (a believer prays to Allah five times a day).
Rahmojon, 70, lives in Andijan. Sick for over a year, he is upset that the illness does not permit him regular trips to the mosque which is located next door. As soon as his once classmate Tursunboi-ota [ota stands for father, an honorific] calls out the azan, Rahmojon performs the rite of tajamum [ablution with earth whenever running water is not available for some reason] and prays. Rahmojon has not heard the azan for some time now.
"I was surprised at first. I was told that it was on the hokim's order who banned the calls for prayer," Rahmojon said. "The use of microphones was banned several year ago. This time, they do not permit the azan altogether."
President of Uzbekistan made Usmonov the Andijan hokim on October 13, 2006. Usmonov began with bans and restrictions. The azan was outlawed. The believers thought that the ban was only applied to amplifiers but it turned out to be worse than that.
"Mosques are under tight control," Azimboi Tuljaganov of Andijan told Ferghana.Ru news agency. "Teenagers are not permitted attendance. And if the young do not learn to perform the namaz and abide by the Koran now, then when? It will be even more difficult to learn everything when they are older. They have spent 70 years trying to breed out Islam from our hearts. Isn't that enough? What else do they want?"
Some orders and instructions amaze the locals, others foment indignation.
It should be noted that the faith became deeply ingrained in the minds and hearts of the local population. Some traditions like drinking at wedding parties or newly-weds' appearance at the table disappeared altogether. Theologians are invited to weddings parties instead, to read the Koran and preach. This practice too was outlawed by the new hokim. Offenders pay a fine - 500,000 sums or more than $400.
"If that is not persecution and encroachment on human rights, then I do not know what is," one D.R., a local lawyer, said. "The Constitution of Uzbekistan proclaims freedom of faith. Inviting preachers or musicians to the wedding party is a person's own business. We have people around here who have been staunch believers from birth, that's how they were brought up. They will never even entertain the thought of the so called "red wedding". What the hokim's policy comes down to is a bona fide war on Islam. The impression is that he is on crusade or something."
As of now, the faithful are not permitted to pray at work. A doctor from the clinic of the Andijani Medical Institute who does not want her name known said the clinic administration issued the order to close the rooms for prayer.
"I always pray five times a day," an elderly woman said. "Abandoning the namaz because of my work, that'll certainly be a sin. If I keep praying, however, it may cost me my job. To tell you the truth, I curse the new hokim every day. That's about all I can do..."
Officials of the regional administration decline comments. The hokim maintains that he merely aired his position. His public statements, both in newspapers and on TV screens, defy his own words, however.
The central authorities denounce accusations too. The Foreign Ministry branded the decision of the US Department of State to put Uzbekistan on the list of countries "problematic from the human rights standpoint" as "meddling in domestic affairs of a sovereign state" the other day. "Tolerance has always been and will remain an important element of the state policy of Uzbekistan," to quote from the statement it released on November 24.
Official Tashkent pretends that everything is fine and dandy. Ditto its partners who prefer for some reason or other to overlook what is happening in Uzbekistan. Moslems in Andijan whose rights are encroached on cannot even inform the world of the true state of affairs with freedom of religion in the region.
Azan (Arab) - muezzin's call for the prayer from the minaret
Muezzin (Arab muazzin, muaddin - he who proclaims or invites) - mosque attendant who calls the faithful to a prayer