Accessibility links

Breaking News

Uzbek Imam Fired After 'Deviating From The Script'

Fazliddin Parpiev
Fazliddin Parpiev

An Uzbek imam is out of a job after he posted a video appeal to President Shavkat Mirziyoev asking him to allow more religious freedoms, including lifting the state's ban on women's Islamic headscarves and on men's beards.

Fazliddin Parpiev was serving as imam of Tashkent's Omina mosque when he was relieved of his duties on September 8, just a day after he shared the 20-minute video on Facebook after having delivered Friday prayers.

While the state-backed Muslim Board of Uzbekistan did not specifically mention the post among its reasons for letting Parpiev go, the 32-year-old told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service prior to his dismissal that an official with the state's religious-affairs department had told him that "you shouldn't have deviated from the script" -- an apparent reference to him questioning state positions on Islam.

The dismissal letter, which was signed by four top officials of the state-backed board, said the decision to terminate Parpiev's contract was reached by the board's ethics commission.

The board did not respond to requests from RFE/RL for comment. When contacted by RFE/RL after his dismissal, Parpiev said that "I did my duty by speaking the truth. I didn't breach any laws."

He said he would not be making further comments because his "authority was terminated."

In the video appeal, which was recorded at the Omina mosque, Parpiev pays tribute to "Mirziyoev's reforms," which the former imam says gave the Uzbek people "hope and trust" in the government.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev (file photo)
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev (file photo)

Since coming to power in 2016, Mirziyoev has taken modest steps to relax restrictions on religious freedom in the predominantly Muslim country.

Mirziyoev released hundreds of Muslims who were imprisoned on religious extremism charges during the tenure of his predecessor, Islam Karimov. Those freed were widely believed to have been imprisoned on trumped-up charges.

In addition to those released from prison, thousands were removed from a Karimov-era blacklist of potential religious extremists.

Religion in Uzbekistan remains strictly regulated by authorities, however.

The government reportedly continues to bar the wearing of the Islamic hijab in schools and offices. A 1998 law prohibits the wearing of religious clothing in public, with the exception of religious figures. The law stipulates fine or a two-week detention for offenders.

There have also been frequent reports of police singling out men with long beards, considered by authorities as a possible sign or Islamic extremism, for harassment.

In his video, Parpiev claims that some officials go door to door demanding that women remove their hijabs, and force men to shave their beards.

He urged the president to provide more "freedom of conscience" in Uzbekistan, noting that he believed Uzbekistan should remain a secular state.

The cleric warned Mirziyoev against officials whom he alleged perform "illegal" acts and violate people's rights in the president's name.

Parpiev said he was encouraged by the president's comments that real friends should tell the truth.

The cleric, however, mentioned that he was aware that by criticizing officials he was taking a risk.

Parpiev said he hadn't ruled out the possibility that he might be punished by some officials. "But I'm not afraid of that," he said.

During a Facebook Live post on September 9, Parpiev said he didn't regret making his video appeal.

Speaking in a more informal setting at home and without his signature Uzbek hat, Parpiev said his smartphone had been taken away by his father.

The cleric's two Facebook posts had been watched thousands of times as of September 10.

Written by RFE/RL correspondent Farangis Najibullah, with additional reporting by RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent Khurmat Babajan.
  • 16x9 Image

    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the region’s ongoing struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.