Freedom of Religion
According to Article 31 of the Constitution, the freedom of conscience is guaranteed for all. Everyone has the right to profess any religion, or none at all. Forced imposition of religious views is unacceptable. Uzbekistan is a secular state where all religious organizations and citizens, regardless of their affiliation to a particular faith, are equal before the law. The state does not interfere with the activity of religious associations. This principle is enshrined in Article 61 of the Constitution.
The “Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations” was adopted in 1991 and it regulates the procedures, principles, and guarantees of the establishment and operation of religious organizations. From that moment, the citizens have the right to practice a religion individually or in groups, perform rites and rituals, and pilgrimages to holy places.
According to Article 8 of the Law, voluntary association of citizens formed for joint profession of faith, sermons, ceremonies, and rituals are recognized as religious organizations (religious societies, religious schools, mosques, churches, synagogues, monasteries, and others). Religious organizations acquire legal status and can carry out their activities after their registration at the Ministry of Justice or its local body in the manner provided by law. Currently, more than 2,000 religious organizations representing 16 different religions are operating in Uzbekistan.
There are all conditions for citizens who practice Islam for the free implementation of five pillars – the obligations of Islam, and they freely pray in mosques, give “Zakat,” fast in the month of Ramadan, and perform pilgrimage, or Hajj, in Saudi Arabia.
The 16 religions in Uzbekistan include Islam, Orthodox Church, Judaism, Buddhism, the Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Evangelical Christian Baptist Church, Full Gospel Christian Church, New Apostolic Church, the Christian Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hare Krishna, and Religious Society of Bach. In other words, more than 150 Christian organizations, eight Jewish communities, six Baha’i communities, one Hare Krishna society, and one Buddhist temple freely operate in Uzbekistan.
Not a single case of interethnic or interreligious conflict arose during the years of independence. Religious organizations fully enjoy the right to create central authorities for coordination of their activities and joint protection of their rights and freedoms.
Currently, six central bodies of religious organizations operate in Uzbekistan. For example, the Centre of Full Gospel Christians of Uzbekistan operates in the country, which unites 21 churches. A seminary is established within the Center, where the citizens can receive religious education according to the teachings of the Full Gospel. In this case, the head of the seminary is a U.S. citizen – Mr. Paul Song Yun Lee. There is also a Roman Catholic Center, called “Sacred Heart of Jesus,” which unites the Roman Catholic Church. The Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Uzbekistan, which brings together 24 Christian Baptist Churches, is also active.
Tashkent and the Central Asian Diocesan Administration of the Russian Orthodox Church has been operating in Uzbekistan for over 100 years. The Office now has 33 churches. A total of three monasteries operate under the Russian Orthodox Diocese, two of which are for women. In addition, the diocese has its own seminary, which graduates the Orthodox clergy each year. The Diocese has also established its own fund, “Blagovest,” which accumulates funds and provides logistical assistance to the Orthodox religious organizations, clergy, and citizens.
In the first years of independence, the Christian religious organizations that belong to various denominations founded the Bible Society of Uzbekistan, the main objective of which is to introduce the main provisions of the Holy Scripture. Through the efforts of the Bible Society of Uzbekistan, together with the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan, several sacred books of the Bible have been translated into the Uzbek language, and are now used in inter-church activities.
The freedom of religion guaranteed by the national law has created all necessary conditions to meet the religious needs for all other citizens – representatives of more than 130 nationalities and ethnic groups, practicing almost all faiths of Christianity and Buddhism, Baha’i, Judaism, and the teachings of Krishna. According to national legislation of Uzbekistan, no restrictions are made on the number of religious organizations in the country.
The religious education system in Uzbekistan includes the Tashkent Islamic Institute, nine madrassas, and Orthodox and Protestant seminaries. The Tashkent Islamic University was established in September 1999 by the initiative of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The first Bachelor’s degree students of the university graduated in 2003; the first Master’s students, in 2005. The academic high school functions under the University.
Under the Committee on Religious Affairs, there has been established the Council for confessions with the purpose of close cooperation with religious organizations, assisting in the activities of the various religious denominations, joint development of proposals and measures for interreligious and inter-ethnic peace and accord in society, and the development of a culture of interfaith dialogue. The Council for confessions includes the heads of the Department of Muslims of Uzbekistan, Tashkent and Central Asian Diocese of the ROC, the Roman Catholic Church, the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, Center of Full Gospel Churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the Jewish community of Tashkent.
Believers in Uzbekistan freely celebrate all religious holidays. Thus, every year Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha and Ramadan on a larger scale; Christians, Easter and Christmas; and Jews, the High Holy Days and Purim.
Each year, with the full support of the Government, believers make pilgrimage to holy places: Muslims to Saudi Arabia for worship of Hajj and Umrah; Christians to Russia, Greece and Israel; and Jews to Israel. During the years of independence, more than 70,000 citizens had the opportunity to perform the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia and more than 1,000 citizens participated in the pilgrimage to Russia, Greece and Israel, the holy places for Christians and Jews.
Pilgrims are provided with comprehensive assistance: organization of charter flights, medical services, reduced air prices, and accelerated registration for visa documents.
In late 2004, the Board of Muslims of Uzbekistan together with the National Society for the Blind introduced the Holy Qur’an printed in Braille. Uzbekistan became the third country in the world that conducted this good deed. From now on, special boarding schools, public libraries in the country, and every volunteer will be provided with copies of the Quran in Braille. Sign language translation for the deaf is provided during Friday prayers in two mosques in Tashkent.
During the years of independence the Quran (three times), 16 books of the Old Testament and the entire New Testament were translated into the Uzbek language and published in Uzbekistan.
Hundreds of mosques, churches and houses of worship, including the Orthodox Churches in Tashkent, Samarkand and Navoi, the Catholic Church in Tashkent, and the Armenian Church in Samarkand were built or restored. In accordance with the Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan dated August 22, 2003, 15 sites – religious complexes, places of pilgrimage, and tombs – were put under the jurisdiction of the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan.
Announcement by the ISESCO of Tashkent, the Capital of Islamic Culture in 2007, is yet another international recognition of the extensive work undertaken in the country to ensure freedom of conscience, rehabilitation and development of Islamic values, study of the rich scientific and cultural heritage of ancestors, and reconstruction and improvement of burial sites of great thinkers and saints.
The religious life in Uzbekistan is widely reported by several newspapers and magazines, including “Islom Nuri” and “Slovo Jizni” newspapers, “Hidoyat” and “Vostok Svishe” magazines, and others.