Speech by Ambassador I.Mustafaev
at the briefing on the experience of Uzbekistan in the achievement of interconfessional harmony

Ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to thank all of you for accepting our invitation and participating in today’s event, devoted to the experience of Uzbekistan in the achievement of interconfessional harmony.

The Republic of Uzbekistan is a country with multiethnic and multifaith population. These values have been cultivated for centuries.

Since ancient times representatives of different ethnic groups, nationalities, religious beliefs and cultures have been inhabited the Uzbek soil.

A number of historical and geographic factors have contributed to the religious diversity of this land. One of the most attractive factors was its convenient regional geographic location, which served as a crossroads for trade routes.

Evidently, the Great Silk Road linking such ancient big cities of Uzbekistan as Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent, Kokand and Khiva was the most famous. Most of those people who had come here to develop trade relations, settled here permanently.

These and some other factors have contributed to the continuous expansion of religious diversity. On one hand, this provided an additional impulse to the common spiritual and cultural enrichment of the region.

On the other hand – accord and peaceful coexistence of different religions turned into vital issue of overall progress of our country and the region as a whole known in the world community as Central Asia.

The religious diversity encouraged theologians to search ways of establishing good relations between representatives of different religions, enhancing mutual understanding among them for the sake of general prosperity of society.

In the Middle Ages such Central Asian thinkers as Iranshakhriy, Yakubi and Biruni founded a completely new special science on various people’s religious beliefs, by comparing one religion with the other in order to envisage clearly the essence of the faith and its basic ideas.

Spiritual and philosophic legacy of great Central Asian thinkers adequately reflects the overall spiritual and intellectual atmosphere of accord and compromise which exists for centuries between representatives of different nations and religions in our region.

Among those great thinkers Imam al-Bukhari, compiler of stories on deeds and demeanors of Prophet Muhammad, Abu Mansur al-Maturidi, who founded one of the two biggest Islamic theological schools - maturidiya, Makhmud az-Zamakhshari, famous interpreter of Qur’an, Burkhanuddin al-Marginani, well-known Muslim lawyer, Bakhauddin Nakshband, one of the founders of Sufi nakshbandiya tarikat, Nadjmuddin Kubro - the founder of kubraviyya tarikat and many others.

The religious and socio-philosophical thinking of Uzbek people has been refined over centuries and became a strong foundation for fostering and progressively developing the culture of religious tolerance.

Considerable work has been accomplished in modern Uzbekistan in order to revive those spiritual values, as it was noted by President Islam Karimov “if we want to build a just state, free society, we have to remember that the ways to realize these noble objectives go alongside with millennial religious beliefs”.

It is recognized that the wide majority of population of Uzbekistan practices Islam, which has been propagated strongly since the beginning of VIII century.

Rich syncretic culture and very old multireligious traditions of people in Mavarannahr introduced into the Islam various elements of local religious-ethic values, legal norms and customs.

In effect, from the start of its expansion Islam has been accumulating specific features. Due to this, Hanafiy mazhab of Islam could adjust to Uzbekistan and other countries of Central Asia.

Almost half of the world Muslim population is recognized as the adherents of Hanafism. Summation of local customs (urf or adat) became one of the most important additional sources of Hanafite fikh – one of the major Muslim legal schools.

This made it more flexible, tolerant to representatives of other religions and cultures and alien elements. This tolerance was favorable for conducting simplified business relations with foreigners and promoting patience towards their beliefs, including religious one.

The rise to power of Amir Timur (1336-1405) - the founder of Timurids State had happened within similar spiritual and religious atmosphere. Obviously, during his and his successors’ rule Islam played an important role in sociopolitical and spiritual life of Mavarannahr.

Amir Timur perceived Islam as a religion free from fanaticism and tolerant towards other faiths. It is significant to mention the words of the king of France Charles VI on this matter.

In his message to Timur he wrote in particular: “We are grateful to Your Excellency for your goodwill and many favors, bestowed by Your Excellency to many Christians. We are ready to go toward the benefits of your people and, where it is possible, (offer them) equal and even more”.

In the period of political partition of Bukhara emirate, Khiva and Kokand khanates (XVII-XIX centuries) the role of Islam in sociopolitical and spiritual life on the territory of current Uzbekistan did not weaken, in some places it even strengthened.

Nowadays Uzbekistan strongly preserves its multinational and multifaith status. Uzbeks – the titular nation constitute about 80 percent of population of modern Uzbekistan (over 27 million people). Nevertheless, more than 130 nationalities of various beliefs live in here as well.

Nowadays, officially over 16 religious confessions operate in our country. It is essential to mention that the affiliations of various nontraditional faiths such as Krishna, Behais and others also operate here along with traditional Islam and historically rather extensively represented Judaism and Christianity.

It would be interesting to know that the religious organizations of such confessions as Christian-Presbyterian, Evangelist, Protestant and Buddhist are widely represented in the religious life of modern Uzbekistan.

From the first days of its independence as the strategic goal of new Uzbekistan was announced the creation of democratic, legal secular state and civil society based on pluralism. Such a vital objective could not endure short-term superficial approach to religious issues.

Therefore, definition of a concrete place for the religion as one of the potential social levers actively influencing the behavior of the individual and formation of social relations became an important direction of the state policy. It is clearly reflected in the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

Article 31 of the Constitution wholly guarantees the freedom of conscience, prohibits propagation of religious ideas in forceful manner. Article 57 forbids the formation of associations and parties on the basis of national and religious differences. Finally, Article 61 of the Constitution declares the separation of religion from the state.

In regard of this principal issue, all of the above-mentioned along with the firm personal stance of the President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov had a great effect over the general evolution of religious situation in the country.

Representatives of nonnative nationalities not practicing Islam and of those who do not adhere to any religious beliefs gained confidence in steady future.

This was reached by the additional improvement of legal base guaranteeing an equal development of all religions on civilized and democratic basis, excluding privileged position for any religion in social life.

It is recognized that any kind of religious extremism, including Islamic one, is based upon the use of extreme methods in ideological, political and social practice. These methods pose danger to the national security of one country or the whole group of states.

The same type of threat was confronting the new independent states of Central Asia, including Uzbekistan. The dynamic formation and growth of the organizational structures of radical religious movements raised the scope of threat.

They pretended joining the political movements, affiliations and parties – the actual mechanisms legitimizing their probable coming to power.

So, in the early 1990s radical religious forces repeatedly tried to establish such parties in Uzbekistan.

Radicalization and politicization of religious conscience under focused influence of organized forces even with the use of forceful methods in some places compelled an adequate response of legal character.

In May 1998 Oliy Majlis (Parliament) of Uzbekistan adopted new edition of the “Law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations”, which became an important document. The law reinforced administrative and criminal liability for the use of religion with political goals as well as fuelling interethnic and interreligious enmity.

All of these prove that the process of preserving and strengthening of interethnic and interreligious accord in Uzbekistan was not always smooth.

Since recent time fundamental changes have been taken place in the world politics. These changes are caused by the consolidation of international movement against any forms of terrorism and extremism which, unfortunately, most often covered up by religious slogans.

Positive fundamental changes in political and military situation in Afghanistan had a favorable effect on social and political situation in Central Asian states including Uzbekistan.

The state took all the necessary measures in order to benefit from the positive interethnic situation to create the atmosphere of further reinforcement of religious tolerance in society. State efforts are aimed at various aspects in this direction.

Among them steady improvement of legal basis for interreligious accord, expansion of network of educational activity providing with impartial information on different religions and culture of interreligious dialogue, resolving existing socioeconomic, demographic and environmental problems.

The recent significant growth in the activity of nongovernmental noncommercial organizations (NGOs) shows the progress in this sphere.

They have made a valuable and effective contribution to religious education and fostering significance of the idea of unity amid the multiplicity of the various parts of population.

International Foundation Imam al-Bukhari is one of organizations actively participating in such activities. In 1999 international interreligious political forum on “Religion and Democracy” was held in Uzbekistan under the initiative of the International Foundation Imam al-Bukhari and the Conrad Adenauer Foundation.

As a result of this important international event the “Tashkent Resolution against international terrorism and extremism” was adopted, which called UN to declare the year 2001 “Year of enhancing interreligious accord in the fight against international terrorism and extremism”.

On November 15-16 2007 in Tashkent was held another international conference: “Interreligious harmony – important factor for deepening democratic processes in Central Asian countries (on the example of the Republic of Uzbekistan)”.

This event was organized on the occasion of UNESCO International Day of tolerance (16th of November) by International Foundation Imam al-Bukhari, Conrad Adenauer Foundation and Tashkent Islamic University.

The conference once again confirmed the importance of studying and sharing positive experience achieved in the field of interreligious harmony in the modern world.

Moreover, in 2007 the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) has declared the city of Tashkent as the world capital of Islamic culture.

The reason for making such an important decision is the place the Republic of Uzbekistan and Tashkent have in the history of Islamic civilization, solicitous and deferential attitude of Uzbekistan to the rich heritage of Islam.

Dear friends,

The representatives of various religions peacefully coexist in Uzbekistan since the ancient times. Nowadays there are 2222 religious organizations representing 16 religious denominations in Uzbekistan, 2042 (92 %) of them are Muslim organizations, since 88 % of the population consider themselves as followers of Islam.

Besides, 164 Christian organizations, 8 Jewish communities, 6 Bahai communities, 1 Krishna society and 1 Buddhist temple are also represented in the country.

The high sense of tolerance is inherent in Uzbek people and it is an integral part of the culture in modern Uzbekistan. Strong interconfessional harmony is the one of the main factors providing stability and prosperity of Uzbek people.

Therefore Uzbekistan will strongly follow on the course of strengthening common understanding between representatives of different religions living on its land.
Thank you for your attention.