The rising tide of fundamentalism is causing a number of social problems. One example illustrates the situation. In March, Mars Dooronova, a well known TV presenter and producer with Osh’s popular ELTR station, quit because her supervisor, the station’s former deputy director, Mametibraim Janybekov, prohibited her from wearing a hijab in the office and on air.
“I got married [recently] and now that I am a married woman I have started wearing a hijab, but Mametibraim Janybekov said I can’t wear a hijab on the air, and even within the building [of the TV Company]," 31-year-old Dooronova told EurasiaNet.
Janybekov offered Dooronova a compromise, saying that she could come to work in a hijab and change her clothes in the office while she was at work. She rejected the deal.
"I can’t be double-faced. I can deceive people, but I cannot deceive Allah. If I could not be on the air in my hijab and even in the office, how could I work there? This is why I had to resign," said the presenter, who had worked at the station for 11 years.
Kyrgyzstan is a Muslim nation, but like in other former Soviet republic, religious practice tends to be moderate. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Islam got a boost throughout Central Asia, but in particular in Kyrgyzstan’s Fergana Valley, where Osh is located.
Here, Muslim religious leaders have tended to promote a strict observance of Islamic law.
Makhmud Aripov, the imam of the Nabijon Haji Mosque in Osh, told EurasiaNet, “Wearing a hijab secures a woman’s chastity, and a lack of hijabs results in divorces. A mother wearing a hijab serves an example for her daughter, which will help secure her honour.”
All this has led to a growing number of hijab-related conflicts. At present, such incidents are more common in secondary schools, involving senior female students wearing hijabs.
Despite the fact that the country is 80 per cent, local Muslims were not very observant, and tolerated how others chose to interpret religious rules.
Now the debate is over a number of issues, not the least how compulsory the hijab is, especially in the south. In any event, women are the first to pay for the situation. In many offices and schools, wearing the veil has been banned.
Experts wonder about what is behind the rebirth of strict adherence to Islamic rules. They note that Muslim religious leaders justify enforcing rules on some vague reference to divine precepts but reject any social change that might have occurred in the last centuries.
The issue is when a strict adherence to a rule becomes intolerant extremism.
This danger should not be underestimated, especially in light of Kyrgyzstan’s north-south divide, which emerged during the protest movement that led to the downfall of President Bakiyev.