Religious Beliefs and Spirituality in Turkmenistan
The Constitution of Turkmenistan provides for the freedom of conscience and religious organizations as well as the separation of church and state. Even Islam, the country’s dominant religion with 89% of the population as adherents, is not allowed to play a role in the country’s political life or perform related activities such as proselytizing or inducing others to join one’s faith, dissemination of unofficial religious materials, or organization of religious political parties. The government has set up a governing body of Islamic judges called kasiat, which is registered with the Ministry of Justice, and a Council of Religious Affairs to monitor the activities of the clergies and other religious groups. By 2002, the Sunny Islam and the Russian Orthodox Christianity had been officially registered in the country. The unregistered religions such as the Bahai Faith, Gregorian Armenian Faith, snd Jehovah’s Witnesses were prohibited from conducting worship meetings even in their homes.
The other religious communities are not legally able to maintain churches anywhere in the country, and these include the Roman Catholics, Pentecostal Christians, Seventh-Day Adventists, Baptists, Hare Khrisnas, Lutherans, and the Jews. The Sunny Muslims in the country are ethnic Turkmen, Uzbeks and Kazakhs, while the ethnic Russians belong to the Russian Orthodox church. Islam came to the country through sheikhs, who were considered as holy men and the patriarchs of tribesmen. During the Soviet era, all religious beliefs, including that of Islam were attacked by communist authorities as being superstitions. They also banned religious schools and religious practices. Today, Islam is now part of the country’s national identity and plays an important role in the life of the people.