Ait mairik bolsun! (Eid Mubarak)

By Rob Packer, KF9 Kyrgyzstan

Islam in Kyrgyzstan feels different; more of a personal matter compared with other countries I’ve travelled in. While it’s probably an exaggeration when the Lonely Planet for Central Asia says that the Kyrgyz “limited it to what they could fit in their saddlebags”, there is probably some truth in the matter in a culture where kymyz, fermented mare’s milk, is a key cultural pointer and a toast with vodka is often not that far away, especially amongst the more Russified population of northern Kyrgyzstan. When you remember that the Kyrgyz are a people with a nomadic heritage who were first permanently settled under the Soviet Union’s official policy of ‘militant atheism’, you might expect the relationship with religion to be a little different from the norm.

An Islamic cemetery outside Kochkor, Kyrgyzstan.

For example, in my time in Kyrgyzstan, I have only heard the azan (call to prayer) twice, both times in Kochkor in central Kyrgyzstan. And although I have not been in Kyrgyzstan during Ramadan, it’s hard to imagine the sheer electricity in Bishkek’s air that I could feel, even as a non-Muslim, during Ramadan this year, which I was lucky enough to spend part of in Marrakesh. I have heard that the south of the country with millennia of settled history is more traditionally Muslim. But even so, the very fact that Kyrgyzstan is a predominantly Islamic country comes as a surprise to some outside the country, unlike neighbouring Tajikistan, which is currently building one of the world’s largest mosques, with capacity for 150,000 people.

As Mohammed Al-Shawaf, another Kiva Fellow currently in a Muslim country (Palestine is far more obvious), wrote in an excellent post on the Fellows’ Blog earlier this week, Muslims all over the world are now celebrating Eid al-Adha, and around two million are on the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. In Kyrgyzstan, the staff of Mol Bulak Finance celebrated with a traditional feast of lamb to commemorate Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) willingness to sacrifice his son.  Some of my colleagues, including Nozim and Melis, spent hours preparing enormous cauldrons of shorpo, lamb soup, and roasted lamb. Like the American fellows’ Thanksgiving turkey the day before, by the time the meal was over, I was absolutely stuffed by the time I left.

Eid Mubarak! Or in Kyrgyz, Ait mairik bolsun!

Melis tends an enormous cauldron of shorpo.

Nozim takes charge with the roast lamb.

Ulan stirs the shorpo.

Roast lamb.

The table set and covered with lepyoshki (Kyrgyz bread). For me, using your hands was the easiest way to get the all the goodness out of the lamb.

Shorpo, lamb soup, and the remains of the roast meat.

Rob Packer is a Kiva Fellow currently working with Mol Bulak Finance in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Join the Kyrgyzstan lending team. There are borrowers from Kyrgyzstan with Mol Bulak Finance who you can help by contributing to a loan today, and many other entrepreneurs from around the world on the Kiva site.


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