Central Asia is a vast region that includes the countries of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and much of Xinjiang province in western China. Most of the region was a part of the Soviet Union until 1991.
The vast geography of Central Asia includes treeless plains, pine forests, rock canyons, hills, deltas, snow-capped mountains, and deserts. Its climate varies from arid and hot to temperate, dry, and cold. The region is sparsely populated due to its uninhabitable forests, deserts, and high mountain ranges. The total population of Turkic peoples in Central Asia is about 60 million.
The Turkic peoples of Central Asia are overwhelmingly Muslim, and they are ethnically distinct from the Western peoples of Turkey. They are defined as anyone who speaks a Turkic language. There are six major ethnicities, most of whom have their own nation, namely, the Uzbek, Uyghur, Turkmen, Kyrgyz, Kazakh, and Karakalpak.
Their origins are from northeast Asia (Siberia) in the first millennium AD. Turkic peoples have a mix of ethnicities due to the many migrations caused by the rise and fall of countless empires.
One of the primary characteristics of the region is the intensifying struggle between the post-Soviet regimes and the Islamist movements. Local governments’ initial embrace of Islam after the breakup of the Soviet Union has largely changed due to oppressive policies that seek to stop Islamist movements. But much of the population is torn between the two and tired of the poverty, corruption, and failure to progress. The development of the recently discovered oil reserves in the region has yet to have a major impact.
In the western Chinese province of Xinjiang, the Muslim Uyghur people are being cruelly oppressed by a Chinese government trying to prevent the creation of an independent Eastern Turkestan nation. This persecution of the Uyghur people is systematic, ongoing, extensive, and horrific. And it goes largely unreported since China strictly prohibits journalists’ entry into the region.
One can summarize the primary struggles of the Turkic peoples of Central Asia as a lack of political freedom and very limited opportunity for economic development.
Muslims in Central Asia are still adjusting to the post-Soviet era. They are discovering what it means to be Muslims in countries increasingly controlled by autocratic, secular-leaning, Muslim rulers.
The allure of radical Islam can be strong for those who see no future in their country or region. Islamists are adept at making other Muslims feel guilty for not being good Muslims.
The older generation survived decades of atheist propaganda, but their children – born since 1991 – haven’t known such pressure. These generational differences produce huge pressures within families.
Orthodox Muslim belief is rare in Central Asia. Instead, the influence of traditional folk Muslim practices is widespread. As in many regions of the Muslim world, folk practices often become occult practices. Countless Muslims in Central Asia are in bondage to unspeakable forms of demonic oppression. Some of the prevalent traditional practices are so dark they cannot be mentioned here.
Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was no known ministry to the Muslims of Central Asia. Since 1991, development and education organizations have entered the region and sought to bless the people.
There are now growing numbers of believers in Christ coming out of Islam. The relationship between these new believers and existing Christians – who are often ethnically Russian – is often difficult and complicated.
In some countries, the newly-birthed house church movements are healthy and growing stronger. In others, they are still very much in their early stages and are vulnerable.
Government officials in nearly every country are often as hard on Muslim background believers as they are on Islamists. In attempts to keep religious tensions under control, they close meeting places and arrest leaders.