Islam in Turkmenistan in 5 Questions

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Translator: Zeynep Öncül

This time, let’s talk about a country that gained its independence after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. This well-known country has touristic spots that reflect the Turkish culture as well as a fascinating nature. Its capital city is Ashgabat and the currency is manat. Have you guessed the country yet? Enjoy learning about Turkmenistan in 5 questions! You will find answers to certain questions, such as “How did Islam arrive in Turkmenistan?, “How many Muslims live there?”, “What are some popular mosques?” “Who are the important figures and institutions in the country?” and “What are some of the challenges Muslims face in Turkmenistan?” in the following paragraphs.

1How large is the Muslim population in Turkmenistan?

There are almost 5.5 million people living in Turkmenistan. While Muslims make up 89% of the population, most of them are Hanafi Muslims. Although the largest borderer is Iran, Shia Muslims are rare in Turkmenistan. Besides, they are mostly Persians from Iran. Turkmenistan is a multinational country. The rest of the population is comprised of Russians, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Armenians, Azeris, Tatars, Persians, and Uyghurs. 

2How and when did Islam arrive in Turkmenistan?

Following the Islamic armies’ dominance over the borders of Turkmenistan in the Hijri 2nd century, Central Asia was introduced to Islam. Abu Hureyre and Abu Zer Al-Gifari are only two of the companions known by name among the ones who represented and explained Islam to the Turkmen. Their tombs today are in Bayramali, one city of Turkmenistan.

3What are some popular mosques in Turkmenistan?

The number of mosques was as much as 481 in 1911. However, after the Soviet rule dominated Turkmenistan, almost all mosques were destroyed. They put restrictions on the freedom of religion and conscience. Young generations had to learn and practice the Communist teachings for over 70 years.

Following the independence of Turkmenistan, the number of mosques and masjids has exceeded 300. The most known and magnificent ones are as follows:

  1. Türkmenbaşy Ruhy Mosque, city of Gypjak. This is the biggest mosque in Central Asia with a capacity of 10.000.
  2. Saparmurat Hajji Mosque, city of Goktepe
  3. Ertugrul Gazi Mosque, city of Ashgabat
  4. Gurbanguly Hajji Mosque, city of Mary

4Who are the most significant Islamic figures in the country?

The country’s Faculty of Theology was founded in 1997-98. Both the constructional and educational costs were covered by the Turkish Religious Foundation. Unfortunately, however, the Faculty closed down in 2005. As of that year, there has been no institution providing religious education in the country. Islamic studies have been interrupted on these fertile lands, where many Islamic scholars such as Fahreddin Razi, Imam Serahsi, Zemahseri, and Sufis as Yusuf Hemedani, Ahmed Yesevi, and Necmeddin Kubra grew up.

5What are the challenges Muslims face in Turkmenistan?

In Turkmenistan, the Office of Mufti works as the Presidency of Religious Affairs, deciding on religious policies of the country. The Office also places imams at the mosques in provinces. However, these imams cannot solve the problems of Muslim people as they lack sufficient religious education and dawah consciousness. Instead, they take part in the country’s policies that undermine Islam as a traditional concept.

No written, verbal or visual content about Islam is published in the country. Even the Turkmen translation of the Quran was published once in the Cyrillic alphabet in the 1990s, never to be published again. As the Office of Mufti did not fulfill its duty of preaching the religion, people started to learn religion on their own. These attempts, on the other hand, have been severely oppressed under the label of “Wahhabism”.

This article was originally written in Turkish. Click here to read it! 5 Soruda Türkmenistan’da İslam

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