An official campaign against Christian proselytism may soon be launched in Kyrgyzstan, according to a Norway-based news agency that monitors religious freedom in the former Soviet republics and Eastern Europe. Recently, Forum 18 reported that authorities may soon launch the campaign out of fear that the conversion of Muslims to Christianity may lead to social tensions and conflict.
In January 2004 Forum 18 (F18), which monitors religious freedom in Communist and former Soviet states, published the results of its survey on religious freedom in Kyrgyzstan. F18 reported that both registered and unregistered religious communities appear to function freely, despite a 1996 presidential decree requiring religious communities to register. However, sources have informed Forum 18 that because conversions from Islam to Christianity have caused many to feel indignant, an official campaign against Christian proselytism may soon be launched.
An article that appeared on IslamOnline (IOL) on June 26 entitled “Proselytization Eats Away at Muslim Majority in Kyrgyzstan” indicates that this threat may soon become a reality.
IOL correspondent Damir Ahmad reports that according to Russian media, “Five percent of the majority Muslim population in Kyrgyzstan has converted to Christianity due to the spreading missionary work in the former Soviet republic.”
According to Omurzak Mamayusupov, the director of Kyrgyzstan’s religious affairs committee, “The percentage of Muslims declined from 84 percent of the total population in 2001 to 79.3 percent in 2004.” In terms of figures, he added, “Some 100,000 Muslims of the country’s five-million-population have converted to Christianity.”
Mamayusupov complains about the “full swing” missionary activity that includes the distribution of literature, books and videos, the building of churches, the establishment of Christian mission organizations, and the way missionaries “entice Muslim people away from their religion."
IOL reported, “Mamayusupov warned that such organizations endanger the national security and run the risk of triggering an ethnic conflict. ‘We must nip this phenomenon in the bud to head off an ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan,’ he said.”
Mamayusupov claims that while Russian Orthodox and Muslims have lived peacefully for many years, the Catholic and Protestant missions “might ignite a religious war.”
According to IOL, Mamayusupov said that the Kyrgyzstan government is therefore considering the option of establishing a religious police department to counter Christian missionary work.
”Mamayusupov’s language is alarmist and offensive,” reported Elizabeth Kendel of the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission. “He appears content to take the easy road and blame social tensions on the peaceful victims of persecution rather than on the perpetrators who would unjustly deny them their basic and constitutional right to freedom of religion.”
Since the year 2000, approximately 2,000 mosques have been built in Kyrgyzstan, bringing the total to about 3,000. According to the US State Department Report on International Religious Freedom 2003, there are some 1,000 missionaries in Kyrgyzstan. Around 800 of them are Christians, primarily from South Korea, Germany and USA, while the others are Muslims from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan.