Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Uzbekistan 'revisted' after 25 years...

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful; blessings and peace be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.


The Declining Day (Al-'Asr)
1. By the declining day,
2. Lo! Man is in a state of loss,
3. Save those who believe and do good works, and exhort 
one another to truth and exhort one another to endurance.

ABOUT 25 years ago (in 1992), the writer (LanH) was in Uzbekistan, a newly independence nation after the collapse of Soviet Union. 

In this Central Asian country of some 30 million people, 90 percent of them Muslims, the writer found out the eagerness of the people to be practicing Muslims - well during the communist era for about 70 years they were denied in displaying their religious obligations such as 'solat' (prayers)...even 'masjids' were turned into museums and storehouses.

Recently the writer's son had the opportunity to visit Uzbekistan; it is interesting to know the latest development in that country especially regarding our Uzbek Muslim brothers there. Here's LanH Jr's account of his experience in this Central Asian country in which lies the world's famous Silk Road...


IT was almost 4:00 in the morning on December 1st, and the chilling early morning breeze and spots of snow welcomed our entourage to Tashkent International Airport as there were no aerobridge facility provided! 

We were transferred to the airport main terminal using a shuttle bus. After the hustle and bustle dealing with immigration and customs officers, we were transferred to the domestic airport where we would take a flight to Bukhara as the first place to be visited.

In the bus at Bukhara, we were welcome by our local tour guide and without hesitation, we were offered the black market rate of exchanging our US currency to the local Som. Mind you, the rate offered by the bank on that day was 1USD to 3,200 Som and he offered us at 5,000 Som instead. Later I found out in the market, 1USD = 7,000  Som. The rate was mind boggling and I kept telling myself, when in Rome, do as the Romans do and all the deals was done in the bus, never outside.
In Uzbekistan, during the last few weeks, it had been most difficult for the public as a national election would be carried out to give the people opportunity to vote for a new President as Islam Karimov, the first President of independence Uzbekistan had passed away in September. However, the public strongly believed the current Prime Minister, Shavkat Mirziyoyev also disciple of the late president will be chosen without challenges.

Thus, level of security has been levelled up and also, Uzbekistan will welcome hundreds of election observers from all over the world to ensure the election will be fully ‘democratic’. 

For a country that claims 90 percent of its population are Muslims, the people's way of daily lives contrast to situation in Malaysia. Muslim women (Muslimah) with hijab could be finger counted, most of them were elderly. Many 'jamek' (large) 'masjids' in Uzbekistan were only used for Jumaah or Eid prayers; for the five times 'jemaah' (congregational) they performed them in small 'masjids' normally by the side of the big 'masjids' and the sad part of it many people claimed that they only pray once a week that was the Jumaah prayers. 

'Adzan; (call for prayers) is not allowed through speakers and 'zakat' (tithe) is the matter of own personal initiative. No specific organisation will collect and distribute 'zakat' properly to the needed. Your 'salam' will be answered with the repeatation of ‘assalammualaikum’ as though it was like ‘hello’ to them.

Old Uzbekistan is noted for being an Islamic centre for scholarly study as its cities of Samarkand, Tashkent and Bukhara were part of the Great Silk Road. In the 14th century  Samarkand was the capital of the empire of Timur (Tamerlane) and since then, hundreds of 'madrasahs' (religious schools) had been built and provided education for boys and girls separately. 

Perhaps the most notable 'madrasahs' in Samarkand were housed in the Registan. In it was placed three 'madrasahs' side by side forming a public square. Nowadays, the 'madrasahs' have past their glory and are now being visited for its historical and architectural values and there is also a shopping centre.

Bukhara, the ancient city along the Silk Road is an arid land. It was the birth place of Imam Bukhari; there also lies what was believed to be Prophet Ayyub's grave and well, the Citadel Ark, bazaar and numerous museum and 'masjids'. 

The present Museum of Carpet here once was a prayer spot for Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Muslims and Jews in different era but now sadly known for what it stands today. It is also here situated the 40 Pillars Masjid in front of the Citadel Ark but claimed to be used only for Jumaah prayer. 

In Chelak district, Samarkand, we visited the mausoleum of Imam Al-Bukhari. We arrived at the mausoleum complex said to be the idea of the first President of Indonesia, Soekarno, while Jumaah prayer was being perform. It was a very interesting scene to witness. While we were walking towards the complex, there were still groups of men outside chatting, ignoring the ongoing in the 'masjid'. 

In Samarkand also stand the enormous Bibi Khanoum Masjid, with a giant 'rehal' (stand) of the Qur'an in front of it. After restoration work, it only served as a mausoleum and have several souvenir shops. 

In Tashkent, we visited the main 'masjid' in the city centre. The Khazrati Imam Complex holds the Khazrat Imam Masjid, used only for Eid prayers, a smaller masjid used for the five times daily dan Jumaah prayers.

Baraqan Madrasah is now used as a woodwork souvenir shop. There is also an Al-Qur'an museum which kept the original manuscript of Al-Qur'an written in Khufi during the rule of Al-Rashidin Caliphate Uthman Affan and was retrieved from Moscow. At the middle of the huge Qur'an, there was a blood stain believed to be from Sayidina Uthman when he was murdered while reading the holy book.

The claws of Soviet rule buried deep inside the heart of the Uzbek people made it hard for outside influences; the people stay 'preserved' from what’s left after independence. 

To make things more difficult, the government is not allowing any visitors to freely roamed this country. Every visitor must be registered and the public is not allowed to receive any visitors overnight at their homes without permission. That’s maybe the main reason preachers from outside find it hard to set foot in this Central Asian nation.

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