Concerned about the growth of certain religious groups, like the Jehovah's Witnesses, government and Muslim clerical leaders are working together to stop the trend. Officially, there is no persecution.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – The authorities in Turkmenistan’s Mary region have begun a campaign against the growth of non-Muslim religions.
Local imams have been told to intensify their preaching against proselytising by other movements and groups, however small they may be.
As of 1 August, the Mary regional administration and the local branch of the National Security Ministry summoned Muslim clergy and mosque staff at an orientation meeting, Radio Azatlyk correspondents reported.
Participants were told how best to support Islam among the population and keep it away from foreign religions.
The relationship between state and Islam in Turkmenistan is closer to the Byzantine Orthodox tradition than that of Islamic theocracies in which the clergy dominates the government.
In practice, Turkmen mullahs and muezzins are required to attend meetings, run by state officials, sign the minutes, and have pictures taken as proof of their presence.
This stems from the concern raised by the recent activism of certain religious groups, most notably the Jehovah's Witnesses.
The orientation meetings focused on the various Christian denominations, including Catholics, mostly of Polish or German origin.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate are responsible for the local Catholic mission, which is not involved in any activity targeting Muslims.
Fr Andrzei Madej, from Poland, is the superior of the Missio sui juris, and is responsible for religious services, which are performed in Russian, English and Polish, in the chapel of the nunciature (currently vacant).
At the meetings in Mary, speakers warned that, if things went on as usual, no Muslim would be left since young people were not interested in religion.
The clergy’s task is to preach more intensely and aggressively, especially to women, to get them to reject revealing clothes and cosmetics, which President Serdar Berdimuhamedow has preached since he took office.
Men and boys too must show wisdom and discretion, avoiding wearing shorts even in the hottest of days.
The president laments the gradual loss of older, more caring believers, those who could prepare the bodies of the dead for their funeral, a service no longer popular among young people.
Muslim clergymen must pay more attention and act more forcefully. They must provide the authorities with intelligence about the involvement of Muslim families in the initiatives of other religious groups and try to convince the "wanderers" to return to Turkmenistan’s traditional religion.
More efforts must be made to get young people to take part at least in the main religious ceremonies and visit mosques and Islamic schools more frequently so that they can “seek the consolation of pilgrimage", recite the daily prayers, respect fasts, give alms, and observe all rules.
While Turkmenistan’s public education programmes ban any persecution on religious grounds, pressure is mounting on men to grow a beard and refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages to the point of becoming harassment.
The leaders of other religious groups have not complained so far, but, as one anonymous pastor put it, many would like to see Islam not used to feed the cult of personality that is growing around the president’s family.