Tashkent's new supreme mufti, an 'imam of compromise'
by Vladimir Rozanskij

Nuriddin Kholiknazarov has the qualities to heal the country's divisions. A figure of interest to societies throughout Central Asia. He is supported by Uzbek President Mirziyoyev. A moderate believer who opposes Taliban fanaticism.



Moscow (AsiaNews) - An "imam of compromise" capable of working for reconciliation between the conflicting parties, thanks to his authority, deep culture and charisma: The figure of Nuriddin Kholiknazarov, the new leader of the Muslims of Uzbekistan, is attracting the interest not only of the faithful, but of the entire Uzbek and Central Asian society.

Since 2019, the 53-year-old supreme mufti already held the position of "imam-khatib" of Tashkent. He takes the place of Usmankhan Alimov, who passed away on August 15 at the age of 71.

Kholiknazarov is a native of Andižan, one of the country's main cities, and his election on October 19 was directly influenced by President Šavkat Mirziyoyev, who was also recently re-elected to the highest political office. For the first time in the history of independent Uzbekistan, the appointment of the new supreme mufti was broadcast live on television, with his inaugural speech of good wishes to the nation and thanks to the head of state for the trust granted him.

The new religious leader completed his studies at the "Mir-i-Arab" madrasa in Bukhara in 1992, then attended the Islamic Institute of Tashkent (1998) and Fergana State University (2007). He served in the main "Akhamadal Makhdum" mosque in Asak, then in the "Ok Tepa" mosque in the Junusabadsk district of the capital; he also represented the administration of the Muslims of Uzbekistan in his native region of Andižan, as the supreme imam of the area.

One of his friends and confreres, Imam Abdulakhad Tadžibaev, sahred his joy at the appointment with Radio Ozodlik: "Nuriddin is the grandson of Šafoat Kholiknazarov, a very well-known personality in Andižan. His is a family of very cultured and well-educated people, they have always been able to unite people, even when contrasts arose between the imams themselves, and I am convinced that he will lead with great success the entire 'muftjat' [main Muslim organisation] of our country."

The grandfather of the new grand mufti was very active in the Soviet years, when he held the office of "kadij" (judge of the interpretation of the Koran) in the city of Oš in Kyrgyzstan, where he also served as the country's supreme judge. He later became one of the most important members of the Religious Administration of the Muslims of Central Asia and Kazakhstan, as the right-hand man of Mufti-Sheikh Zijavuddinkhan ibn-Ešan Babakhan.

Kholiknazarov's leadership has always been characterized by a desire to protect the Muslim community from various trends in society and pressures from civil authorities, stating that "there is no need to give so many directions to the imams and waste their time with unnecessary things, for every problem we will take care of the administration."

A well-known Uzbek blogger, Adkham Atadžanov, founder of the website Islamonline.uz under the pseudonym Abu Muslim, describes the new leader as a "moderate believer". As he explains, "the new mufti is well known by all the faithful, and his preaching is very well received, even by other imams." Atadžanov himself has accompanied the Mufti on representative trips, including to the United States, and collaborated with him in drafting the new law "On freedom of conscience and religious associations", from which, on his initiative, prohibitions on wearing religious clothing in public places were excluded.

According to Atadžanov, the new Muslim leadership of Taškent will have to deal with very relevant issues such as religious education and the publication of religious literature, and allowing students to wear headdresses and veils even in school. "Topics that have been worrying our community for many years; the 'dress code' is decisive for the performance of all educational activities, it is our internal issue," the blogger told Ozodlik. Atadžanov assures that the Mufti "will not intervene with the government to support pro-Taliban and more radical tendencies, which are also present in Uzbek society, but rather will try to enlighten everyone in order to overcome fanaticism and ignorance".