Uzbekistan is located in Central Asia and has a population of 31.5 million. The country was once part of the Russian Empire and later, part of the Soviet Union. It became an independent nation in 1991. The majority of the population is of Uzbek descent, around 80%. Although, the country is home to significant communities of other ethnicities as well. Among these individuals are several religious beliefs. This article takes a look at the most widely practiced religions in Uzbekistan.
Religious Beliefs in Uzbekistan
Islam is the most widely practiced religion within Uzbekistan, a faith followed by 92.2% of the country's population. This religion has a long history in the country that began in the 8th Century. Arabs began advancing on Central Asia around this time, establishing the Samanid Dynasty and bringing with them the Islam religion. It first took hold in the southern regions of Central Asia before moving north to the communities of the ancestors of today’s Uzbeks. Its spread was further encouraged by Uzbeg, the ruler of the Golden Horde, who supported the work of Muslim missionaries. The religion influenced architecture and scholarly works throughout the region as well.
During the Soviet era, many mosques were closed and numerous Muslims were deported. Mosques that were not shut down were forced to register with the Soviet government. The government also established the Muslim Board of Central Asia which controlled the practice of the religion. After independence, the number of individuals identifying as Muslim began to grow. However, actual observation of and participation in Islam was not widespread. Today, many denominations are practiced with Sunnite being the most popular, followed by Shia.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity
The second most widespread religion is Eastern Orthodox Christianity. This is practiced by 5.9% f the population, largely by the ethnic Russian community. Christianity was once wiped out in the region by Tamerlane, the first ruler of the Timurid Dynasty. After Russia gained control in the mid-1800’s, the religion was reintroduced and Orthodox churches were built.
Minority beliefs, such as Roman Catholicism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and others, are collectively practiced by approximately 1.9% of the population. Roman Catholicism is practiced mainly by the ethnic Polish community. Judaism is practiced by the Bukharan Jew population, many of whom left the country after independence. Zoroastrianism is an indigenous religion practiced long before the introduction of Islam. Estimates suggest it has approximately 7,400 followers in Uzbekistan today.
Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion is protected by the Constitution of Uzbekistan. The government, however, does not uphold this right in practice, and has made even efforts to restrict certain religious practices. The law prohibits proselytizing, printing and disbursing religious works, and establishing private religious schools. In general, the Muslim-dominated society accepts the previously mentioned religions, but not tolerate attempts to convert Uzbeks. The government has also established a registration requirement for religious denominations. If not registered, the religion cannot legally be practiced. This regulation is used to restrict some religions from being practiced, particularly smaller Christian sects such as Pentecostals. There have been reports of religious persecution including raids, arrests, and sentencing of practitioners of certain unauthorized religions. In one case, a church leader was sentenced to 4 years in a labor camp. This has also occurred within unrecognized Islamic groups that the government believes are involved in extremist activities. Some people have reported violence within communities as well, particularly against Christians and recent Christian converts.
Religious Beliefs In Uzbekistan
|Rank||Belief System||Share of Population of Uzbekistan|
|2||Eastern Orthodox Christianity||5.9%|
|3||Roman Catholicism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and Other Beliefs||1.9%|