Ashgabat (AsiaNews/F18) – Women are not allowed to study theology, including Islamic theology, the only one allowed at the university level, this according to the Forum18 news agency, which also reports that religious education is highly restricted and violations can be punished with prison.
Theology, Islamic theology that is, is taught only at the Magtymguly Turkmen State University, a state university. Students who want to become imams must train there in a programme tightly controlled by the authorities. No would-be imam can train abroad. In 2008, the government cancelled a programme funded by Turkey that allowed Turkmen students to study at the Faculty of Islamic Theology in Uludag University in Bursa, Turkey.
Sources told Forum18 that since the Faculty of Theology was abolished in 2005 by presidential decree, Islamic theology is taught in the Faculty of History. The five-year programme allows ten students to register each year, for a total of 50 over the five-year period.
The ten candidates who are chosen each year are selected by the government. However, sources told Forum18 that only men can take the courses. “Women cannot study here,” they said.
The country was once dotted with madrassah, Qur‘anic schools, but they were shut down in recent years. The last one to offer a higher Islamic education was closed in Dashoguz in 2001.
The late President Saparmurat Niyazov imposed a numerus clausus in theology courses in 2002 and ordered all Turkish teachers to leave. He then had the faculty abolished and moved theology courses to the Faculty of History. The building that once housed the Faculty of Theology was torn down in the summer of 2009.
Restrictions have been imposed on other religions as well. Only the Russian Orthodox Church can send abroad some of its members to study religion. Many go to Tashkent (Uzbekistan), because many Turkmen Orthodox parishes come under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Tashkent. Relations with the Orthodox Theological Seminary of Smolensk, Russia, are also very good.
Other religious groups require permits, which are not easily granted, to teach religion, even Sunday catechism. Anyone who offers unauthorised courses can be heavily fined or go to prison.