Panel discussions on The Role of Mullahs, 2007

PANEL DISCUSSIONS ON THE ROLE OF MULLAHS IN KYRGYZ SOCIETY

Overview:
In the framework of the project Moldo (mullah) as Supporters and Destroyers of Traditions, Aigine Research Center conducted three roundtables (RT) in Bishkek city (Chui oblast), Karakol town (Issyk-Kul oblast) and Talas town (Talas oblast) of Kyrgyzstan.
 
Rationale:
Historical aspect: Moldos were one of the key figures of traditional Kyrgyz culture and society. Their historical mission was to learn, internalize and introduce Islam to the people.  By this mission they were living on “the boundary” of the traditional values and a new religion. They were the first ethnic representatives who have experienced a collision of the traditional and new ideas. Thus, interpretation of traditions and development of Islam among Kyrgyz people to certain extend has been dependent on moldos.
 
Current situation: Moldos might become an influential power in a politically unstable country and it is reasonable to know what this power is about.
 
Social aspect: Different types of Muslims are a potential source of conflicts. Learning and working with moldos could suggest ways and approaches to bridge these types.
 
 
Research activities:
Based on results of pilot research conducted in Talas and Issyk-Kol (Isiq Qol) provinces (Northern part of Kyrgyzstan) was elaborated a questionnaire set to understand the role of moldos (mullah) in contemporary Kyrgyz society.
The mood of these three roundtables was different based on the regional specifics, educational background of moldos and their job position.
 
Panel #1 in Bishkek
Participants of RT in Bishkek – The main participants of the roundtable were the people from Central mosque of Bishkek and Spiritual Managing Committee of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan. Also, there were the researchers interested in the issues of interrelation of Islam with Kyrgyz traditional beliefs. RT in Bishkek comprised 12 participants, excluding the members of the Aigine
  • Imam of Central Mosque of Bishkek;
  • Assistant of the Mufti of Kyrgyzstan;
  • Instructor from the Islamic University of Kyrgyzstan;
  • Two professors from the Kyrgyz- Russian Slavonic University;
  • Professor from Academy of Management;
  • Two members of Cultural NGO “Bata”
  • Representative of Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia
  • Graduates of Theology Department of Osh State University
  • In-region coordinator of The Christensen Fund
Questions, which were discussed in RT in Bishkek:
  • Contradictions between ancestor’s tradition and Islam;
  • The present and future of Islam;
Initial observations after the RT in Bishkek:
Based on Round Table (RT) discussions Aigine wants to develop theory for its research on role of moldos in contemporary Kyrgyz society. The following statements are the most obvious observations of Aigine representatives:
  • Moldos consider a mazar (sacred site) to be of historical importance, not as a phenomenon, which is or may be valuable currently;
  • The main reason why moldos have negative attitude towards mazar worshipping is related to their fear of equating things or human beings with Allah (“shirk”);
  • The moldos who took part in the RT were relatively of young age (22- 35). Since moldos studied in Islamic countries (e.g. Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia), they implicitly have shown their “sympathy” for aforementioned countries;
  • Educational background of moldos, creates gaps between generation, specifically between those who were “educated” during Soviet Time and after it;
  • Aigine representatives noticed a tendency that some moldos started valuing Kyrgyz culture who adhere Islam;
  • There is “chaos” in self- identification of mullahs, since they are not explicit in defining themselves either Orthodox Muslims or a Kyrgyz who consider himself as Muslim;
Panel #2 in Talas
Participants of RT in Talas: – The majority of participants were mullahs and that is why it was difficult to keep balance on discussing the ideas, which are right for the mullahs and things, which are right for the other group of Muslims. There were 8 participants, excluding the Aigine members:
  • Kazy of the Talas oblast
  • Imam of the Talas town
  • A teacher from medrese in Talas
  • Imam of the Kara Oi village
  • Imam of the Min Bulak village
  • Cultural practitioner Jumadil Mamekov
  • A manaschy Asankan Jumaliev
  • Moldo of the Manas Ordo Complex
Questions, which were discussed in RT Talas:
  1. Folk traditions and Islam in Kyrgyz life;
  2. Types of moldos;
  3. Ways for reconciling the Muslims of different types
Some observations after the RT in Talas:
  • There is a strong hierarchy among the mullahs;
  • Mullahs divide among themselves to ‘pure’, ‘real’ and to ‘impure’ and ‘unreal’;
  • Mullahs have very strong anti-Western feeling;
  • Once again we were persuaded that moldochuluk passes from generation to generation;
  • Kazy use his authority for keeping people to follow ‘fundamental’ Islam even though in Islam it says that everything should be by person’s own will;
The RT in Talas was not basically possible to conduct discussion with all the participants because the kazy of the Talas oblast was very hot-tempered, and because of this not only other mullahs could not speak but it was not possible for the Aigine members to show our new film. From the speech of the kazy it was obvious that he had heard about Aigine before and he had disagreements with our activities, and when he met us he was pouring all of his anger to us.
 
Panel #3 in Karakol
Participants of RT in Karakol – The RT in Issyk-Kul was of smaller scale comparing to the previous two. Nevertheless, comparing to RT in Talas we were able to share opinions with each other. There were 5 participants excluding the members of Aigine:
  • Kazy of the Issyk-Kul oblast;
  • Imam of the Manjili Ata sacred site;
  • Cultural practitioner Malik Arykov;
  • Chagat Almashev Director, Foundation for Sustainable Altai (FSDA)
  • Chagat Alamshev’s mother;
Questions discussed in RT in Karakol:
  1. Folk traditions  and Islam in Kyrgyz life;
  2. Types of moldos;
  3. Ways for reconciling  the Muslims of different types;
Some observations after the RT in Karakol:
  • Healing practice stays to be the major practice among the mullahs;
  • The term mullahs use for defining the sacred qualities of the traditional healers is ‘sebepker’, meaning that the healers do not posses any sacred qualities, rather they are the conveyers of God’s help;
  • We could notice division between mullahs into ‘bad’ and ‘good’ mullahs in RT in Karakol too;
  • The imam of the Manjili ata sacred sites is a mullah and he reads Quran when visitors, and at the same time he is the shayik of the sacred place, which is one of the main attributes of kyrgyzchylyk. But while guarding the Manjili Ata he forbids the visitors to practice their rituals like sham jaguu, zikir chaluu, jar saluu, etc.
All the Round Tables prove that even the mullahs seem to be flexible in the beginning they show that it is not possible to change their opinions.
 
Panel discussion resutls – Based on Round Table (RT) discussions Aigine wants to develop theory for its research on role of moldos in contemporary Kyrgyz society:
  • The following statements are the most obvious observations of Aigine representatives:
  • Moldos consider a mazar (sacred site) to be of historical importance;
  • The main reason why moldos have negative attitude towards mazar worshipping is related to their fear of equating things or human beings with Allah (“shirk”);
  • The moldos who took part in the RT were relatively of young age (22- 35). Since moldos studied in Islamic countries (e.g. Turkey, Pakistan), they implicitly have shown their “sympathy” for aforementioned countries;
  • Educational background of moldos, creates gaps between generation, specifically between those who were educated during Soviet Time and after it;
  • Aigine representatives noticed a tendency that moldos who adhere Islam religion start value their culture;
  • There is “chaos” in self- identification of mullahs, since they are not explicit in defining themselves either Orthodox Muslims or a Kyrgyz who consider himself as Muslim;
Article/Paper:
Aigine is in the process of developing article on moldos based on RT discussion and results of quantitative & qualitative questionnaires. Hence, we cannot provide you with complete an final version of article. Nevertheless you can see excerpts from RT transcriptions. Based on research activities, Aigine will present article that will be published as a brochure and additionally materials of RT will be hosted on Aigine web-site. Link of the website will be send to all interested individuals.
 
Prepared by Dr. Gulnara Aitpaeva