In Osh, Prayers Proceed Under Cover of Fear
A rumor spread through Osh’s ethnic Uzbek neighborhoods – scenes of the worst devastation in the city – on July 2. Police would sweep Uzbek mosques for weapons, men whispered. And they would do it during Friday prayers, when the mosques are busiest, to provoke a response. Friday is the Muslim Sabbath.
There are a lot of rumors in Osh these days, many portending the return of violence. Fortunately, this was just more gossip. But it wasn’t baseless.
Senior government officials in Kyrgyzstan have said that terrorists linked to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan provoked the mid-June inter-communal violence. As Uzbeks are traditionally considered more devout than ethnic Kyrgyz, the suggestion could imply that Uzbeks started the violence.
But in Osh, there is one thing most Kyrgyz and Uzbeks can agree on: this bloodshed had nothing to do with Islamic extremists.
Fearing an exaggerated government raid could provoke more fighting, the imam and elders at the Acha-Mazar Mosque in the Cheremushki mahalla took no chances, stationing themselves there from early morning to act as peacekeepers in their own houses of worship.
A few blocks away, between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m., a thousand men arrived for Friday prayers at the small neighborhood Mamakhan Ogly Nobijon Hajji Mosque.
Men crammed together in the courtyard, sharing prayer mats. They bid me one request: “please show our suffering.”
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