“Parents preventing their children from studying at schools or choosing madrasas instead, should be prosecuted”, said Almazbek Akmataliyev, professor, and Candidate of Philosophical Sciences. He has shared with us his thoughts on the impact that Islamization has on the education system. Mr. Akmataliyev served as a president of Naryn University and headed the Academy of Public Administration under the aegis of the President of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. He also was among the authors of Ethnical Politics and Society Consolidation conception, which was elaborated last year.
– Mr. Akmataliyev, how do you rate the degree of influence that Islamization and radicalization processes have on the education system in Kyrgyzstan?
– The acceleration of Islamization processes in Kyrgyzstan is a self-evident fact. The number of madrasas constructed from scratch and put into operation since independence increased by more than 2,500. There appeared a wide network of local madrasas, Islam University has been opened and functions today, as well as we can see several departments of theology in purely secular universities. Islam, being an actively developing world religion, is gaining more and more influence over different directions of socioeconomic life of the population, and Kyrgyzstan is not an exception to this trend. In general, the impact that Islam has on education can be summarized in the following scheme:
- The demand for teaching religion at secular schools is increasing.
- The government admits that the sphere of religious education should not be solely under the control of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan.
- The frequency of conflicts regarding the appearance of schoolgirls and them wearing a headscarf at schools and universities is increasing.
- Secular schools are severely criticized and accused of giving low-quality education and not nurturing necessary morals in children. In that context, the role and importance of a madrasa as an origin of good upbringing and rectitude is growing as well.
- A clear understanding of insufficiency of clerical knowledge for religious activists in the 21st century is raising among the members of the Islamic elite. There is an obvious necessity for training in natural sciences, history, philosophy, psychology, sociology.
- The government does not have any clear or univocal opinion on wearing a headscarf at schools.
At the same time, the argument that the relations between the educational system of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan and Islamic clergy have insurmountable contradictions is rather weak. The education in Kyrgyzstan is still entirely under the control and regulation of the state. To claim that parents or students themselves are actively seeking an alternative to existing schools in the system of madrasas is a serious exaggeration. In most of the cases, madrasas are considered as an ancillary to the current education system when it comes to studying the foundations of Quran and the Sharia Law, learning the Arabic language, and enforcing the system of moral upbringing and self-control of a child. As support for this option, we can see numerous cases when students, who graduate from prestigious religious institutes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan, try to receive a secular education at the universities in Kyrgyzstan in major secular fields.
– Why did the number of madrasas and mosques skyrocket, and what are the main causes of this phenomenon?
– It goes without saying that during the years of independence, the number of mosques increased in tenfold, if not more. There are several reasons for this phenomenon. The first reason was the strict politics of the Communist Party and the USSR apparatus when the freedom of religion was immensely limited. The collapse of the USSR and birth of newly independent states facilitated the liberalization of religious practice. Furthermore, the members of the Kyrgyz society had quite powerful connections to the Islamic religion and its values, which existed for centuries and, thus, prevented the Communist dictatorship from destroying public religious sentiments. Second, financial investments to the institutionalization of Islam and construction of mosques by the Arabic missionaries starting from the 90’s have also played a significant role. Third, there was a complete absence of any governmental politics in a religious field at the beginning of the 90’s: the very first institution called the State Committee on Religion under the aegis of the Kyrgyz Republic Government was created only March 4, 1996. In other words, for more than five years there was neither governmental policy on religion nor the institution working in this area. All these factors led to the number of mosques growing exponentially, as well as to the absence of clear politics on Islam and misunderstanding of social risks stemming from Islamic radicalization by the statesmen.
– How do you interpret the preference of some families to send their children to madrasas rather than to traditional schools? What are the reasons standing behind this choice?
– Fortunately, the phenomenon of choosing a madrasa over school is not widely spread in Kyrgyzstan. As it was mentioned above, children go to madrasas while continuing their studies at school. The key reasons for the need for additional education are:
- The willingness of parents to cultivate in their child certain moral values, which can help to resist negative impact of modern society, internet, and television.
- The opportunity to study Arabic.
- Certain bonuses, which frequently go along with education at madrasa (e.g. free meals, issue of clothing, free books and stationary, opportunities to study at Arabic countries in the future, etc.) Also, the life in the Arabic countries is often depicted as a heaven: “Allah gave these countries the endless number of wells of oil and gas”, “only Muslims can enjoy such wealth”, and “all Arabic countries have social equality and strict social order”. At the same time, the majority of Kyrgyzstan citizens demonstrate their tolerance towards sending their children to secular schools and giving them a basic level of education. The number of parents, who start accepting the importance of high-quality pre-schooling and schooling and who are ready to spend big money on private kindergartens and school, is increasing.
– What do you think about religious education in Kyrgyzstan, what are the problems and perspective in this sector?
– The paradox of this situation is that governmental authorities and religious activists interpret the meaning of religious education differently. The latter argue that such classes as Islam foundations, Muslim studies and Iman should become compulsory elements of the school curriculum, while the former (including the members of Jogorku Kenesh, representatives of Ministry of Education and State Committee on Religion) have an opposite view. In their opinion, any madrasa has to obtain official license proving the right to educate before starting their activities. Licensing procedure engendered a range of terms and requirements of quality of education, issuing of diplomas and certificates, and facilities and resources. In the case of a madrasa willing to issue diplomas to its students, it has to follow the requirements of state standards concerning this type of educational institution. The subjects such as Physics, Chemistry, Math and others have to be included. The government, therefore, is controlling official religious education, and there are enough resources and possibilities to exercise this regulation. The main concern, however, is the level of responsibility of government in this educational field. In my opinion, the state has to approach this process in a regulatory manner, not prohibiting one. It is necessary to build a system, where the diploma from unlicensed madrasa would not be recognized and accepted by any of state organs; only then the sphere of religious formation will have an order and high-quality education.
– How can the issue of parents not allowing their children to schools and sending them to madrasas instead be addressed?
– Such parents have to be legally accountable since this is a severe violation of the Constitution of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan and international Acts on children’s rights. Moreover, licensed madrasas will not be under the control of a religious community, but will rather act according to accepted standards confirmed by the Ministry of Education. All subjects with religious content should be considered as electives and be chosen by students on voluntary basis. If such an approach is followed, there will be no social instability and conflicts in the sphere of religious education will be precluded.