(USIP) Summary: Muslim civil society organizations (MCSOs) in Central Asia are highly diverse in terms of views, activities, and structures. In most cases, however, they are politically moderate, supportive of democracy, and open to working with global development actors that respect the local Islamic social and cultural context.
The authors of this report facilitated interviews with representatives of Muslim civil society in each of four countries in the region: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The findings testify to the existence of an active and diverse sector that defies easy generalizations and deserves closer inspection.
The report examines a non-exhaustive list of six types of MCSOs: muftiates, mosques, mahallas, jamaats, Islamic charitable foundations, and Islamic nongovernmental organizations. Some of these tend to have relatively close links to state structures, whereas others seek to keep their distance from governments that espouse secularism and regard Islamic groups suspiciously. The governments’ suspicion helps explain why the latter avoid activities that could be construed as political or critical of the state and instead focus on charity work and development assistance, much of it inspired by Islamic precepts and funded by alms donated by members of local communities and foreign foundations.
Even so, the interviewees were not silent about corruption and other perceived moral wrongs in their countries, about the need to address social and economic problems, and about state interference in religion. Most MCSOs seem to be supportive of greater democracy and closer global ties, including with the West, but some are more conservative on social issues, such as women’s role within society, and are committed to preserving Islamic culture and traditions.
With their strong local legitimacy, Central Asia MCSOs have the potential to be valuable partners for global development actors. To start tapping this potential, donors and practitioners should learn more about and reach out to Muslim civil society while urging Central Asian governments to allow more space for MCSOs’ charitable and developmental activities.
Read More © The United States Institute of Peace (USIP)