In the recent era, the most important issue that Islam is facing in Central Asia is the role of Islamist groups and movements that are of a radical nature, and how the government is reacting to these movements and groups. Although there are a plethora of movements and groups in the region but this article will discuss the most prominent of them that have actually played an important role in shaping the identity of Central Asian Muslims. The three most influential groups are discussed below.
Islamic Renaissance Party
The Islamic Renaissance Party, also known as the IRP, was established in the year 1990 when the Soviet Union was just about to disintegrate and Central Asian states were to achieve independence. As this party was considered to be a Pan-Soviet party, it denounced the official Islam and called for the activities for social justice to take place in the region. Furthermore, it also advocated building up of Islamic schools in the region. As the Soviet Union disintegrated, the adherents of this party dropped their ideology of pan-national integration and they divided themselves into different and separate parties in different states. The party that was formed in Tajikistan named itself as the Tajikistan’s Islamic Renaissance Party. In the bloody civil wars that took place in Tajikistan after the 1990’s, it was witnessed that the Taliban of Afghanistan also supported this Tajik IRP. In 1997, the peace agreement was signed in Tajikistan and the IRP was then recognized as an official political party of Tajikistan but it has been able to gain very low popular support in the electoral aspect. Thus, the IRP teaches us an important lesson advocating the incorporation of the Islamists in the political process, which will lead towards their de-radicalization as well.
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is considered as one of the most prominent organizations especially in the states of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. This organization explicitly advocated the establishment of a State based on the fundamental principles of Islam. For this purpose, they wanted to overthrow the government of Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan. The organization was established by Juma Namangani in the late 1990’s. Namangani was a charismatic leader and had gained a reputation of being a skilled and brave fighter. This organization was accused of carrying out a number of kidnappings and bombings of the administrative buildings in the Capital of Uzbekistan between the year 1991 and 2001. In order to finance its operations, the organization had built a base in Afghanistan from where drugs were trafficked. It attracted a number of people to the militant camps from the entire Central Asian region. After the killing of its leader Namangani in November 2001 by U.S. bombing in Afghanistan, the movement has been weakened and very much disrupted. It is now not clear that the organization is still working and operating or has it been destroyed. Nevertheless, the organization has surely given us an understanding of the strand of radical Islamism in the Central Asian region that is likely to employ the strategies of killing and kidnapping of the government personnel to advance their objective. Thus, we can say that the influence of IMU has greatly decreased and it will take time before it will be able to mobilize itself again.
Another important organization working in the Central Asian region is the Hiz-ut-Tahrir which is also known as the Freedom Party. This organization is an intricate faction to characterize as it was originated or founded in Jordan and Saudi Arabia in the year 1953 for the purpose of establishing a pan-Islamic Caliphate which would operate according to the Shariah but without the use of any violence. The primary tenets of the group are just distribution of property, profits, resources, good governance, and the concept of common brotherhood in the entire Muslim world. Although it is witnessed that Hizb-ut-Tahrir severely criticizes the administrations of Central Asian states and the anti-Islamic actions of the West, but it provides no such concrete framework to accomplish its objectives of promoting religious education and economic development. Therefore, we can say that the aims of this organization can be claimed to be vague as compared to the other organizations of the region.