In the Soviet Union the number of Moslems living in the Central Asian republics number around forty million -- about fifteen per cent of the country's total population.
In the Soviet Union the number of Moslems living in the Central Asian republics number around forty million -- about fifteen per cent of the country's total population. The recent revolution in Iran, bordering one of the Soviet Union's Moslem states, has led to speculation, among some Western observers, that an Islamic revival might cause political problems for the Kremlin.
SYNOPSIS: The town of Bukhara, in the Soviet Central Asian state of Uzbekistan. In Medieval times it was a centre for Islamic culture and has been ruled by Persians and Arabs. The dome of a mosque still dominates the town skyline.
The dress and customs of the inhabitants still carry the influence of the east -- many still cannot speak Russian. The town itself is geographically closer to most of the Middle East Arab capitals than it is to Moscow. The Iranian border lies 250 miles south-west: Pakistan is 400 miles south-east: Afghanistan 200 miles south. In all three countries, the Moslem religion has featured prominently in political development over the past six months.
Bukhara, like other towns and cities in Soviet Central Asia, is undergoing rapid growth -- and the Moslem population in the Soviet Union is increasing faster than the Slavic. Some predictions say that on present rates the Islamic population may outnumber the Slavs by the year 2000.
Freedom of worship is guaranteed by the Soviet constitution. The number of mosques still operating, around 200, has fallen drastically since the Communists came to power. Two religious training schools serve the region. This one is in Tashkent, capital city of Uzbekistan and, with a population of 1.8 million, fourth largest city in the USSR. The other school is in Bukhara, 270 miles south-west. They serve to train Islamic Imams and Mullahs for the region.
The best graduates in the schools are sent for further study in Middle Eastern countries. Other students work in the mosques, or in the office of the Mufti -- the Moslem head of Central Asia -- in Tashkent.
In the city there's evidence of Western influence. Many dress in the European style and though most of the population are born in an area where Islam held sway for centuries, the Moslem religion today has little more than a peripheral hold on their day-to-day life. They are generally aware that their standard of living is considerably higher than that of the mass of people living in neighbouring Moslem countries. Soviet officials discount the possibility that the recent upsurge in the Islamic world could have any repercussions here.