Actors of Influence

Mosque of Bischkek

In Kyrgyzstan, Islamic activism of women has become increasingly important. A new analysis shows the influence of women actors on society and how their activities can be contextualised.

04/14/2023 · News · Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient · Geisteswissenschaften und Bildungsforschung · Forschungsergebnis

The role of Islam in Central Asia is still viewed through a limited number of analytical and interpretive schemes, argues Ismailbekova in her article published last week in Zentralasienanalysen. Often, a security perspective is used that describes Islamisation as a threat to the stability of the region. Furthermore, Islam is often interpreted as a challenge to liberal thought, which questions freedoms and rights of women, for example. As another perspective, scholars interpret Muslim activism in Central Asia as a component of regional identity politics, in which civil society associations serve as a substitute for the state organisations that dominated in the Soviet Union.

Ismailbekova adds another perspective to these three: social impact. She focuses on women's networks and associations and analyses how women actors shape and change Kyrgyz society through their beliefs and practices. In doing so, she takes a look at the activities of women who offer both online and offline services on topics such as raising children, gender equality or mental health. But there are also business development initiatives that help single or widowed women find work. An increasingly important role is played by social media, through which Islamic women influencers and bloggers appeal to young people in particular.

The activists' main concern is a positive presentation of their faith. With their activities, they want to convey a modern vision of Islam that is characterised by progressiveness, a contemporary style and a humanitarian orientation. Many of the activists and bloggers therefore also advocate tolerance towards people of other faiths and often cause a stir within their religious communities with their efforts to give women more space within them. Ismailbekova notes that Islamic activists have established themselves in Kyrgyz society and, especially through their media reach, are effective in challenging socially and culturally determined norms. She therefore also recommends that Islam should always be considered for cooperation between international actors with local partners across different thematic areas due to its position in the country's civil society.

Ismailbekova's article was written as part of a larger study by Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) in cooperation with the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) in Maastricht and eight researchers from Central Asia. The aim of the study was to improve the general understanding of the character of Islamic activism in four Central Asian countries (Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan) and to identify possible risks. The results show that Islamism and Islamic activism have become a central phenomenon in the post-Soviet religious landscape of the region. Contrary to the common perception among many policymakers and the public that Islamisation and Islamism pose a threat to the region, the activism can also be seen in a different light. For example, it plays an increasingly important role in the provision of public goods and services that are not provided by the state.

Further information and contact

Press release - Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO)