KYRGYZSTAN: Muslims say presence of male obstetrician violates their beliefs
The presence of a male obstetrician in a maternity hospital in Karasu in the southern Osh region has offended the sensibilities of local Muslims. Sadykjan Kamaluddin, head of the Kyrgyzstan International Islamic Centre, told Forum 18 News Service that the town's population is very devout and that Shariah law insists that only in cases of danger can men other than the husband see a woman naked. "This provision is in all the commentaries on Islamic law by learned theologians." Officials admitted there is no legal mechanism for balancing the rights of the employee and religious sensibilities. "To be honest, I simply do not know how to resolve the issue in this particular case," the country's senior religious affairs official told Forum 18.
As a result of the male obstetrician's presence, residents are unwilling to take their pregnant wives to the maternity hospital. In several cases, husbands have demanded a divorce once they have found out that a man delivered their baby. Some men prefer to deliver their child themselves, simply to prevent a man from seeing their wives naked. "Such home births may easily end in tragedy," Kamaluddin told Forum 18. Local residents and elected officials for the district have several times appealed to the authorities to remove the male obstetrician. "However, the authorities persist in categorically rejecting their request."
During Forum 18's visit to the maternity hospital on 7 March, the doctor on duty Damira Bekmatova admitted that there is indeed a male obstetrician working there, but she refused to confirm or deny reports that local residents are unwilling for a man to deliver their wives' babies.
Some local people believe the authorities' refusal to transfer the male obstetrician is linked to the fact that it has been demanded by members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an Islamist party banned in Kyrgyzstan which calls on Muslims throughout the world to unite under a single caliphate. "The debate over the maternity hospital is primarily political," Alakhan Baltabayev, an activist for the party, told Forum 18 on 7 March in Karasu. He argued that the authorities do not want to be seen to succumb to the will of a banned organisation.
Reached by Forum 18 on 9 March, the head of the Karasu town administration Adam Zakirov was remarkably frank in admitting that there had been unease among the local population over the maternity hospital and claimed that the male obstetrician had already been transferred to another job.
However, when Forum 18 noted that it had established that he was still working at the hospital, Zakirov changed his tone. "It's a very complex issue. Ours is a democratic secular state. And when all's said and done, if we sack the male obstetrician, we will be infringing his rights as a citizen of Kyrgyzstan," he declared. "On the other hand, a section of the local Muslim population is indeed unhappy with the fact that there are men working at the local maternity hospital, and we have to respect their religious convictions. We will resolve this issue and transfer the male obstetrician to another job so that he does not offend Muslim feelings."
The head of the government's committee for religious affairs, Omurzak Mamayusupov, found it hard to respond to Forum 18's query over whether any laws regulated such conflicts. "Kyrgyzstan is a secular state and under our laws, men and women have equal rights," he told Forum 18 on 10 March. "At the same time, we have to respect believers' rights. To be honest, I simply do not know how to resolve the issue in this particular case."
The country's chief obstetric gynaecologist, Roza Amirayeva, told Forum 18 on 10 March that foreigners from Muslim countries generally insist that men do not attend the delivery when their wives give birth. She said the health ministry always concedes to such requests, but said they are very rare. Amirayeva maintained that there have been no similar appeals from Kyrgyz residents on the issue and so the health ministry has not issued special provisions to regulate this problem.
Situated on the border with Uzbekistan and populated by ethnic Uzbeks, Karasu is regarded as the stronghold of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir party in Central Asia. This is far from the first time that problems have arisen between the authorities and local Muslims. Last year directors of local schools forbade female pupils from attending lessons wearing the hijab, the headscarf worn by Muslim women and girls that covers the head and neck (see F18News 12 May 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=52 ).
For more background information see Forum 18's latest religious freedom survey at
A printer-friendly map of Kyrgyzstan is available at
16 February 2004
In all Central Asian states easily the largest percentage of the population belongs to nationalities that are historically Muslim, but it is very difficult to state the percentage of devout Muslim believers. Governments are intensely pre-occupied by "political Islam", especially the banned strongly anti-western and antisemitic international Islamic party Hizb-ut-Tahrir. However, there is absolutely no certainty that all Muslims subject to severe governmental repression are Hizb-ut-Tahir members. In Uzbekistan, where there are estimated to be 5,000 political prisoners alleged to be Hizb-ut-Tahir members, mere possession of Hizb-ut-Tahrir literature is punished by at least 10 years' in jail. Also, Muslims' rights have been violated under the pretext of combating Hizb-ut-Tahrir. In southern Kyrgyzstan, for example, teachers have told children not to say daily Muslim prayers - even at home - and banned schoolchildren from coming to lessons wearing the hijab, the headscarf traditionally worn by Muslim women.
11 February 2004
Ethnic Uzbek Imams leading mosques in southern Kazakhstan have resisted state pressure to come under the 'Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Kazakhstan', Forum 18 News Service has found. Pressure followed a 2002 attempt to change the law on religious associations, which the Constitutional Council ruled contradicted the constitution. Kazakh officials have frequently privately told Forum 18 that the region is the country's "hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism". However, Kyrgyzstan is the only state in Central Asia where Hizb-ut-Tahrir (which seeks to unite Muslims worldwide under the rule of a Caliphate) is not officially banned, and most Hizb-ut-Tahrir members in South Kazakhstan region are ethnic Kazakhs. Commenting on this ethnic difference, a local NGO told Forum 18 that "Uzbeks in Kazakhstan live much better than they do in Uzbekistan," so they "are not interested in seeking open confrontation with the authorities."
10 February 2004
In its survey analysis of religious freedom in Kazakhstan, Forum 18 News Service notes that after restrictive amendments to the religion law were thrown out by the Constitutional Council in April 2002, the religious freedom situation has improved. Muslim, Baptist and Jehovah's Witness communities that did not wish to or failed to get registration had been routinely pressured or fined, but this has now stopped. However, an article of the Administrative Offences Code still prescribes punishment for leaders of unregistered religious communities and allows registered religious communities that hold youth meetings to be banned. Some officials – though not all - still maintain to Forum 18 that registration of religious organisations is compulsory.