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Religious tolerance of Turkmens
For the third time in a row Turkmenistan has been officially celebrating one of the main Muslim holidays - the advent of the holy month of Ramadan. The President of Turkmenistan addressed the nation on this occasion; the newspapers are publishing educational articles describing the roots of this holiday, its history and customs, the principal point of which is fasting.

The secular nature of the state of Turkmenistan is envisaged in its Constitution. Nevertheless religious holidays have grown more popular in the country, which is partly due to encouragement by the state. Since Turkmenistan gained its independence all bans and restrictions regarding observance of religious ceremonies have been removed. Large-scale construction of mosques started. There was opened a theology faculty at the State University in Ashgabat. For the first time Turkmen pilgrims have been given a chance to visit holy sites of Mecca and Medina and the state covers all expenses including a charter flight from Ashgabat.

Does it mean that there is a religious boom in Turkmenistan? It is rather not, though it is obvious that different groups of society take an interest in religion, and fasting during Ramadan appears to become a good manner while objection to circumcision on the part of parents is viewed as a bad manner. The point is in peculiarities of the Turkmen's perception of the religion, which from historical point of view has never been a tool of suppression neither at the state nor at the daily life level. This is to say that the Turkmen have never been religiously fanatic, and Islam was accepted as closely interconnected with people's traditions and customs, which do not always conform to religious canons. As academician Vadim Masson, a distinguished expert in Turkmen history, explains "the Turkmen people's Islam" is a chief factor behind peculiarities of the national character - religious tolerance, amazing ability of coexisting with other nations and people. The notorious "passionate Islam", which nowadays is used to be cited as the core of the so-called Muslim extremism, cannot be attributed to the Turkmen people. Big piles of flowers at the American Embassy in Ashgabat brought by people after September 11th, unanimous condemnation from a taxi driver to the President of country of the hostage taking in Moscow, are the proof of it. And nobody is surprised when with the advent of Easter the Turkmen colour eggs even in traditional Turkmen families because they are not used to visit their orthodox neighbors without gifts. And this could also be attributed to a kind of Turkmen tradition.

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By Serdar Muradov

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