TASHKENT - Monday, July 16, 2012 -
Strict Islamic weddings are becoming more common in Uzbekistan, and as usual, the government is reacting with excessive measures.
Most of Uzbekistan’s population is Muslim and observes the rituals around weddings, funerals, and so on. What the authorities do not like is anything they believe indicates a fundamentalist point of view.
The government has spent the last two decades trying to stamp out political Islam, in the process radicalizing part of the community and locking up many innocent people merely for being too devout.
So the rising trend towards religious weddings – held with no music, dancing, or alcohol, and female guests sitting separately from men – has met with a predictable reaction. Officers from the uniformed police and the National Security Service are soon round at the newlyweds’ home to issue a stern warning, known euphemistically as a “preventive chat”.
"They hold preventive conversations with them and their relatives, and ask why the family chose to hold the wedding according to strict Muslim rules,” said Suhrob Ismailov, head of the Expert Working Group, an independent think tank in Uzbekistan. “Sometimes they force them to sign statements."
The Expert Working Group produced a report on the issue in early July reporting that Islamic weddings were becoming more popular across Uzbekistan. They are common among migrant workers returning from Kazakhstan and Russia, where there is more religious freedom.
A representative of Uzbekistan’s government committee for religious affairs confirmed that local officials were visiting the homes of families that held Islamic weddings.
"Members of the [banned] Hizb ut-Tahrir movement have begun holding weddings that hardly merit the name,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The women wear black, there are sermons, but no music or dancing. It’s a kind of meeting. The rest of the neighborhood is unaware whether it was a wedding or a funeral. So such families are being told that this is not a good practice, and that that they should hold proper weddings."
Tashkent resident Aziz, 27, is planning to get married in late August, at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
He wants to hold an Islamic wedding but says officials in his local neighborhood are drawing up lists of people who do so.
"Where will those lists go? Will they lead to persecution?" Aziz asked.
(This story was originally published by IWPR.net. It is republished here with permission)