By Mamatov Mamadjan
(Associate professor of the Ferganа State University)
Uzbekistan pursues consistent policies aimed at strengthening friendship of peoples and ensuring interethnic, interfaith and intercultural tolerance in the Republic, where members of over 130 nationalities and ethnic groups live and work as one nation.
Based on special geopolitical features, the administration of President Islam Karimov continues to work towards further advancement of religious tolerance enshrined in the Constitution of the republic that legislatively secured state policies regulating interethnic relations and ensured equal rights for all citizens in Uzbekistan.
The idea of tolerance was conceived in the depth of history as a solution to problems in attitudes towards religious minorities. In days gone by, before the advent of Islam in Uzbekistan, the country saw successful coexistence of various religions on its territory. This is evidenced by archeological research. In Fergana Region’s Quva District, for instance, a group of archeologists unearthed well-preserved statues of Buddha as well as objects testifying that Zoroastrians also lived here . Buddhism and its Mahayana teachings were widespread in Uzbek cities such as Termez, Samarkand, Bukhara, Sairam, Quva, Koson and Uzghen. There is data suggesting that the son of the king of Parthia (the ancient name of a country in this region), An Shigao (120-189), disseminated this religious teaching. In the Kingdom of Kushan, which existed in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. in what is today Uzbekistan during the reign of Kajol, Vima Kafis and Kanishka, Buddhism was a state religion. Numerous archeological digs have helped unearth remnants of Buddhist structures. Chinese traveler and scholar Xuanzang wrote that Samarkand had two Buddhist temples in the 7th century. According to Arab historians, they encountered Buddhist temples in Samarkand and Bukhara even in the 10th-11th centuries. Moreover, Buddhist traditions did not vanish. Rather, they were continued in Sufism and religious philosophy born of Islam.
Gradually, principles of humane relationships with people of different faiths were developed. They included components such as tolerance, loyalty and respect for the faiths and views of other people and nations.
Ideas of tolerance were primarily shaped by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen passed by France’s National Constituent Assembly in August 1789. The document declared freedom of speech and thought. It made it possible to recognize tolerance as a universal value and the fundamental component of peace and accord among religions, nations and various social groups. In 1995, UNESCO adopted a Declaration of Principles on Tolerance -- respect and proper understanding of the cultural diversity of the world, forms of self-expression and manifestations of human individuality. It serves as a fundamental document that has paved the way for the friendship and peaceful coexistence of nations of the world.
Loaned from the domain of medicine, the word ‘tolerance’ now has more of a social character that highlights the need for and positive essence of the said quality: demonstration of tolerance and respect with regard to characteristics of various nations and religions.
Tolerance does not make for betrayal of one’s own convictions. Neither is it indifference to other people. Rather, it is preparedness to live in peace and good neighborliness with people, whose convictions and faiths differ from ours.
Tolerance is a value and a social norm of civil society that manifests itself as the right of all citizens to be different; provision of lasting harmony between various religious groups as well as political, ethnics and other social groups; respect for the diversity of world cultures, civilizations and peoples; willingness to understand and cooperate with people of different looks, languages, convictions, traditions and faiths .
History reveals that mutual enrichment of religious is an indispensable attribute of each of them . A shining example is the historical and philosophical essence of Sufism. This teaching states that, with the exception of the idea of reincarnation and achieving nirvana, the primary goal of Buddhism, it is understanding of Allah (wasl) and offers would-be Sufis similar ways of ridding themselves of worldly concerns and sins.
The principle of tolerance, particularly religious tolerance, has always been a characteristic feature of the people of Uzbekistan. In the years since independence, Uzbekistan has demonstrated its own effective model strategy for attaining interethnic accord. As of today, the country has registered 2,250 religious organizations representing 16 faiths that are working successfully under the Uzbek law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations” . Among them is a Korean Christian Church. The largest religions are Islam and Orthodoxy. Islam has become a crucial factor in spiritual education and upbringing. Presently, over 2,000 Muslim religious organizations are operating in Uzbekistan united under Uzbekistan Muslim Board, which after over 100 years of oppression by the Russian Empire (which occupied Central Asia in the latter half of the 19th century) and then by the Communist atheist party of the Soviet era, is gradually turning into one of the primary mechanisms for carrying out Islamic revival in Uzbekistan. Our republic is a member of the Organization of Islamic Conference.
Uzbekistan’s endeavors to restore authentic freedom of conscience and religion for its citizens have won acclaim from the Arab world, and in 2007 the capital city of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, was recognized as a capital of Islamic culture by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO).
Orthodoxy has the second largest following. The Republic is home to 159 Christian organizations, eight Jewish communities, six Baha’i communities, a Krishna society and a Buddhist temple.
Uzbekistan has garnered rich, historically valuable experience in peaceful coexistence of various cultures and civilizations, which contributes to the formation of similar value-based orientations of the majority of the population and to the creation of a tolerant atmosphere of interethnic and interfaith rapport and mutual respect.
Navigating through challenges, Uzbekistan has succeeded in creating a universal model of mutual relations among all ethnic and religious groups living in Uzbekistan. This model is based on mutual understanding and tolerance, patriotism and civil responsibility for the future of the country with representatives of all ethnicities that live in the ancient land of Uzbeks.
The Council for Faith Affairs at the Committee for Religious Affairs includes leaders of several major religious organizations. The Council ensures interaction with religious organizations, provides assistance in running religion-related activities, and organizes various events under its purview.
In 1995, for example, the capital city Tashkent hosted a Christian-Muslim conference titled “Living Together Under One Sky”, which was attended by representatives of the World Council of Churches and several international religious organizations.
Also regularly organized are events celebrating holidays and dates observed by various religions as well as conferences and seminars focusing on religious issues.
Specifically, on May 31, 2007, representatives of Islamic, Orthodox and Jewish communities participated in a seminar titled “Uzbekistan’s Experience in the Achievement of Interfaith Harmony”. It was put together at the initiative of the Three Faiths Forum (3FF), a leading London-based interfaith organization . In addition, Uzbekistan annually marks the International Day of Tolerance on November 16.
Media in Uzbekistan provides regular and broad coverage of religious life at all social levels of the population. Magazines Hidoyat and Vostok svishe (the Orient above) and newspapers Islom Nuri (Light of Islam) and Slovo zhizni (Word of Life) are among media outlets that feature material in various languages.
Uzbekistan’s consistent policy aimed at ensuring peace, stability and interethnic and interfaith rapport has won broad acclaim and support with the international community.
The global public has been impressed by the economic growth and socio-political development rates. Add to that the fact that Uzbekistan works to serve as a universal bridge between the east and the west.
Tolerant attitudes are an integral part of the Uzbek nation’s political culture, which enables representatives of various ethnicities and adherents of various religious beliefs to coexist in peace and accord while working in the name of the republic’s prosperity and further deepening of democratic reforms and building a civil society.