Islam is the dominant religion of Kyrgyzstan: 80% of the population is Muslim while 17%
follow Russian Orthodoxy and 3% other religions. A 2009 Pew Research Center report indicates
a higher percentage of Muslims, with 86.3% of Kyrgyzstan’s population adhering to Islam.
The majority of Muslims are non-denominational Muslims at 64% while roughly 23% are Sunni,
adhering to the Hanafi school of thought. There are a few Ahmadiyya Muslims, though
unrecognised by the country.
During Soviet times, state atheism was encouraged. Today, however, Kyrgyzstan
is a secular state, although Islam has exerted a growing influence in politics.
For instance, there has been an attempt to arrange for officials to travel on hajj
(the pilgrimage to Mecca) under a tax-free arrangement.
While Islam in Kyrgyzstan is more of a cultural background than a devout daily practice
for many, public figures have expressed support for restoring religious values. For example,
human rights ombudsman Tursunbay Bakir-Ulu noted, “In this era of independence, it is not surprising
that there has been a return to spiritual roots not only in Kyrgyzstan, but also in other
post-communist republics. It would be immoral to develop a market-based society without an
Additionally, Bermet Akayeva, the daughter of Askar Akayev, the former President of Kyrgyzstan,
stated during a July 2007 interview that Islam is increasingly taking root across the nation.
She emphasized that many mosques have recently been built and that the Kyrgyz are increasingly
devoting themselves to Islam, which she noted was “not a bad thing in itself. It keeps our society
more moral, cleaner.” There is a contemporary Sufi order present which gives a somewhat different
form of Islam than the orthodox Islam.
The other faiths practiced in Kyrgyzstan include Russian Orthodox and Ukrainian Orthodox versions
of Christianity, practiced primarily by Russians and Ukrainians respectively. A small minority of
ethnic Germans are also Christian, mostly Lutheran and Anabaptist as well as a Roman Catholic community
of approximately 600.
A few Animistic traditions survive, as do influences from Buddhism such as the tying of prayer flags
onto sacred trees, though some view this practice rooted within Sufi Islam.There are also a small
number of Bukharian Jews living in Kyrgyzstan, but during the collapse of the Soviet Union most fled
to other countries, mainly the United States and Israel. In addition, there is a small community of
Ashkenazi Jews, who fled to the country from eastern Europe during the Second World War.
On 6 November 2008, the Kyrgyzstan parliament unanimously passed a law increasing the minimum
number of adherents for recognizing a religion from 10 to 200. It also outlawed “aggressive
action aimed at proselytism”, and banned religious activity in schools and all activity by
unregistered organizations.It was signed by President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on 12 January 2009.