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Uzbekistan recalls students from Egypt, Turkey as part of clampdown on 'unofficial' Islam

Pedestrians walk towards the old city in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, 8 March 2018 [Taylor Weidman/Bloomberg/Getty Images]
Pedestrians walk towards the old city in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, 8 March 2018 [Taylor Weidman/Bloomberg/Getty Images]

Authorities in Uzbekistan are once again restricting and controlling the practise of Islam after some years of easing its previous hard-line policy towards non-state sanctioned interpretations.

According to a report on Sunday by RFE/RL, the government has in recent months recalled around 1,500 students of Islamic studies in Egypt and Turkey.

Although the reasons have not been made clear, it is thought the students have been repatriated as part of increasing restrictions being once again implemented by Uzbekistan on the practise of Islam, despite being a country with a Muslim majority of over 80 per cent.

However, the restrictions on how Uzbeks study and learn about Islam is now being extended to overseas study, as one representative from the Uzbek embassy in Cairo was cited by RFE/RL's Uzbek service, that Cairo's prestigious Al-Azhar University is now only accepting Uzbek nationals on the condition that they are approved by the state's committee on religious affairs in the capital Tashkent.

READ: Uzbekistan repatriates Daesh women and children

The diplomat also expressed concern that the administration of Al-Azhar reported that hundreds of Uzbek students had not been attending their courses or sitting exams, suggesting that they may be learning elsewhere at questionable, unrecognised institutions. Many of the students are reportedly from Uzbekistan's most conservative regions in the Ferghana valley.

Currently in Uzbekistan it is illegal to acquire private Islamic education, not controlled by the state, and no religious subjects are taught in schools. Although those wishing to pursue Islamic studies may do so at madrassas after completing high school, however places are said to be limited leading to an underground market.

Since coming to power in 2016, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev lifted some restrictions on the practise of Islam put in place by his late-predecessor Islam Karimov, who ruled with an iron fist since the Central Asian country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

In April, Foreign Policy reported that Uzbekistan is experiencing an "online religious revival" as some Uzbeks seek out stricter and unsupervised interpretations of Islam on the Internet, leaving some analysts to believe it could lead to the propagation of extremism.

READ: Al-Azhar urges global response to resolve Nile crisis

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