PROMOTING RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE AND HARMONY IN UZBEKISTAN
The government’s commitment to democratic ideals and its choice of a secular path of development have made it possible to create equal conditions for the activity of all religions in Uzbekistan.
Work in the field of religion is carried out by state bodies and civil society institutions and is aimed at guaranteeing citizens the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of conscience and at strengthening religious pluralism, tolerance and inter-religious dialogue.
One of the significant results of this work is considered to be the adoption by the UN General Assembly in December 2018 of a special resolution on “Education and Religious Tolerance”, which was a practical implementation of the initiative of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, presented at the 72nd session of the UN GA. The main objective of the proposed resolution is to “ensure universal access to education and eliminate illiteracy and ignorance”.
Not only was the resolution unanimously supported by all United Nations Member States but co-sponsored by more than 50 countries. This demonstrates the international community’s recognition of the timeliness of the Uzbek Leader’s initiative.
The resolution stresses the importance of promoting peace, human rights, tolerance and friendship, and welcomes all international, regional and national initiatives aimed at promoting interreligious, intercultural and interfaith harmony and combating discrimination.
In recent years, Uzbekistan has undergone significant changes and has implemented large-scale reforms in the religious and educational spheres.
Mechanisms have been established in Uzbekistan to revive national and religious values and to study the rich scientific and spiritual heritage of its great ancestors. To this end, the International Islamic Academy of Uzbekistan has been established, which specialises in training qualified personnel in the interpretation of the Qur’an, Islamic law, religious dogma and hadith.
In addition, the Centre for Islamic Civilisation and the Imam Bukhari, Imam Termizi and Imam Maturidi International Research Centres have been established. The Mir Arab Higher Madrasa in Bukhara and the School of Hadith Studies in Samarkand have become operational. The “Waqf” charitable public foundation has been set up to finance the reconstruction of mosques and places of pilgrimage. A department for work with women has been established within the Committee for Religious Affairs.
Strong legal guarantees for freedom of conscience and religion have also been established in Uzbekistan. The Constitution includes a provision on freedom of religion for all, although work is continuing to improve and liberalise national legislation. In particular, a new Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations has been adopted, which helps to ensure the constitutional rights of citizens to freedom of conscience and religion.
The procedure for registering religious organisations has been simplified. There are 2,350 religious organisations legally operating in the country, representing 16 denominations. In addition to Muslim organisations, there are 179 Christian organisations, 8 Jewish communities, 7 Bahai communities, a Hare Krishna society, a Buddhist temple and an interconfessional Bible society. Twenty-three non-Islamic organisations have recently been registered in Uzbekistan.
Religious organisations, together with other voluntary organisations, are actively involved in spiritual and educational work and make a significant contribution to improving the spirituality of society and instilling in young people strong convictions based on patriotism and inter-religious and inter-ethnic tolerance. Importantly, representatives of 138 national and ethnic groups practising Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism and other religions work on equal terms.
Believers are free to worship in mosques, churches and synagogues, they can fast, make pilgrimages and celebrate all religious holidays. They have the right to own land and publish literature.
Uzbekistan is currently implementing a number of measures to protect the population from the negative influence of extremist ideology. An important step in this direction has been the use of amnesty laws. In particular, since 2017, 22 decrees of the President of Uzbekistan have been adopted on pardoning persons who have committed crimes.
Five “Mercy” humanitarian operations were successfully carried out between 2019-2021, during which more than 500 citizens of the Republic, mostly women and children, were returned to their homeland from conflict zones in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
To further facilitate their early reintegration and rehabilitation, the government has implemented a series of measures to provide medical, psychological, material and moral support. Access to education and other social programmes has been provided, including through housing and employment.
The Uzbek authorities are paying particular attention to establishing a constructive dialogue with international organisations and experts in the field of religion. During the visits to Uzbekistan by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (May 2017) and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Lamberto Zannier (April 2018), the country’s reforms were highly praised.
In December 2020, the US State Department removed Uzbekistan from the so-called “special watch list” on ensuring religious freedom. This was after Uzbekistan was removed from the list of “countries of particular concern” in 2018 due to the significant improvement of the situation in the sphere of ensuring religious freedoms. The republic had been on this “black list” for 12 years, since 2006.
One of the main priorities in reforming society to ensure inter-ethnic harmony and religious tolerance is to ensure and protect the rights and freedoms of citizens and their equality before the law, irrespective of race, sex, ethnicity, language, social origin, beliefs, religion or personal or social status. Uzbekistan consistently and rigorously fulfils its international obligations in the area of religious freedom under international human rights treaties. Uzbekistan has now acceded to more than 70 core international human rights instruments. Accession to these instruments has contributed to the establishment of an effective human rights protection system in Uzbekistan. Importantly, Uzbekistan’s policy on religion, aimed at strengthening inter-faith dialogue and religious tolerance in society, is an important factor for stability and security.
In conclusion, it is important to stress that the far-reaching reforms underway in the country are a vivid confirmation of the President’s consistent pursuit of the principle of “All in the name of man, for the sake of his future”.
by Malikakhon Tursunova, PhD, Research Fellow
at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy.