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Uzbek Hotels Ordered To Provide Holy Books

The Uzbek tourism agency says the move is aimed at promoting tourism and catering to the needs of hotel guests -- both foreign and local visitors.
The Uzbek tourism agency says the move is aimed at promoting tourism and catering to the needs of hotel guests -- both foreign and local visitors.

So far, checking into a standard Uzbek hotel has gotten you a bed, bathroom, and TV set, at a minimum.

But Uzbek authorities say there will soon be a few new additions to many hotel rooms, with copies of the Koran, the Bible, and "the books of other official religions" on hand for guests.

Officials have also ordered that at least 10 percent of rooms have Islamic prayer mats and 30 percent of rooms indicate on the ceiling the direction of the city of Mecca, which pious Muslims are obliged to face during their prayers.

The order comes as the new administration of President Shavkat Mirziyoev is seeking ways to increase international tourism to the relatively unfrequented former Soviet republic, home to a segment of the storied Silk Road trade route, ancient mosques, and a renowned carpet-weaving industry.

According to the state tourism and religious-affairs agencies, the sacred texts and prayer rugs will be added to the amenities list starting on January 1.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev

While long customary in some hotels around the world -- including in the United States, where Gideons Bible is a catchword for the practice -- major chains have recently opted away from providing sacred texts in their rooms under at least some of their brands.

Meanwhile, in post-Soviet Uzbekistan, where officials have for years warned of the dangers of religious and other forms of extremism, authorities have taken tentative steps over the past year toward loosening restrictions on religious practices.

The sacred-texts directive was announced both by Uzbekistan's national tourism committee and its Islamic-affairs directorate on their official websites.

An inventory list obtained by RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service obliges hotels to place religious books and prayer mats in at least 10 percent of their rooms. The prayer mats should be in 30 percent of the rooms, it says.

The practice of placing religious texts in hotels is thought to have begun in the United States around a century ago when three traveling Christian missionaries put Bibles in hotel rooms to spread the Gospel. Some U.S. hotels later added other sacred books to their nightstands, although many have recently discontinued the tradition.

Some hotels in Arab countries provide a prayer rug and a copy of the Koran in their rooms.

The Uzbek tourism agency said that the move is aimed at promoting tourism and catering to the needs of hotel guests -- both foreign and local visitors.

It comes just days after a dedicated Islamic prayer room with a separate space with ablution facilities was opened for the first time at Tashkent International Airport.

Uzbekistan recently allowed major mosques to use loudspeakers for calls to prayer for the first time in more than a decade. It had been banned since a bloody government crackdown on antigovernment unrest in the eastern city of Andijon in May 2005 that the government of the late President Islam Karimov blamed on Islamic extremists.

Mirziyoev, who came to power after Karimov’s death in 2016, has relaxed some of the restrictions.

Mirziyoev announced on September 1 that around 16,000 people had been removed from a blacklist of potential religious extremists. Addressing a gathering of Muslim clerics and officials, Mirziyoev said that 9,500 people removed from the list had already been provided with jobs.

Many thousands of people were blacklisted during Karimov’s 27-year rule, which saw the rise of the militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) group and cracked down hard on Islamists in the name of combating religious extremism.

Several religious figures arrested on dubious charges under the previous regime have been released from prison in recent months, although detentions of journalists and others have tempered hopes of a fuller thaw.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has welcomed the releases but said thousands more convicted on dubious charges still remain in Uzbek prisons.

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    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.