By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Uzbekistan’s government banned people under the age of 18 from attending regular Friday Prayers or special prayer services at mosques across the country, including the Eid celebrations on September 24 that mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The order, issued by Uzbekistan’s Education Ministry on September 23, warned parents they would face a fine of about $750 –- equal to 15 months’ salary at the country’s minimum wage –- if their children were caught by the authorities inside a mosque during prayer services.
It also warned imams at mosques not to allow anyone under the age of 18 into prayer services.
The Uzbek government frequently expresses concerns about the threat posed by Islamic extremists amid increasing Islamic sentiments in the country.
Ubaidullo Azimov, a local official in Tashkent, told RFE/RL that the government’s position was that “children’s brains should not be distracted” from school studies by religion.
He said the government thinks children should only learn what is taught at school, and that religious studies should take place only after students have finished their high-school studies.
A decree issued by President Islam Karimov on August 18 declared that September 24 is a public holiday in Uzbekistan so that Muslims can celebrate Eid. It makes no specific reference to any ban on children in mosques.
Karimov’s decree also congratulates the country’s Muslims on the holiday.
This year’s Eid celebrations come at the height of Uzbekistan’s two-month cotton harvest.
Despite the public holiday, all university students and employees at state institutions were required to work on September 24 to harvest cotton — including medical specialists, teachers, and workers at state-owned firms.