Uzbekistan is a secular country and Article 61 of its constitution states that religious organizations and associations shall be separated from the state and equal before law. The state shall not interfere in the activity of religious associations. In the early 1990s with the end of Soviet power large groups of Islamic missionaries, mostly from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, came to Uzbekistan to propagate Sufi and Wahhabi interpretations of Islam. In 1992, in the town of Namangan, a group of radical Islamists educated at Islamic universities in Saudi Arabia took control of a government building and demanded that president Karimov declare an Islamic state in Uzbekistan and introduce shari‛a as the only legal system. The regime, however, prevailed, and eventually struck down hard on the Islamic militant groups, leaders of which later fled to Afghanistan and Pakistan and were later killed in fights against coalition forces. In 1992 and 1993 around 50 missionaries from Saudi Arabia were expelled from the country. The Sufi missionaries too were forced to end their activities in the country.[

There are more Sunni than Shia Muslims among the residents. Islam was brought to the ancestors of modern Uzbeks during the 8th century when the Arabs entered Central Asia. Islam initially took hold in the southern portions of Turkestan and thereafter gradually spread northward.[ In the 14th-century, Tamerlane constructed many religious structures, including the Bibi-Khanym Mosque. He also constructed one of his finest buildings at the tomb of Ahmed Yesevi, an influential Turkic Sufisaint who spread Sufism among the nomads. Islam also spread amongst the Uzbeks with the conversion of Uzbeg Khan. Converted to Islam by Ibn Abdul Hamid, a Bukharan sayyid and sheikh of the Yasavi order, Uzbeg promoted Islam amongst the Golden Horde and fostered Muslim missionary work to expand across Central Asia. In the long run, Islam enabled the khan to eliminate interfactional struggles in the Horde and to stabilize state institutions.

State atheism was an official policy in the Soviet Union and other Marxist–Leninist states. The Soviet Union used the term gosateizm, a syllabic abbreviation of “state” (gosudarstvo) and “atheism” (ateizm), to refer to a policy of expropriation of religious property, publication of information against religion and the official promotion of anti-religious materials in the education system. By the late 1980s, the Soviets had succeeded in curtailing religion in Uzbekistan by removing its outward manifestations: closing mosques and madrasas; banning religious text and literature; outlawing non-state-sanctioned religious leaders and congregations.

During the Soviet era, Moscow greatly distorted the understanding of Islam among Uzbekistan’s population and created competing Islamic ideologies among the Central Asians themselves. The government sponsored official anti-religious campaigns and severe crackdowns on any hint of an Islamic movement or network outside of the control of the state. Moreover, many Muslims were subjected to intense Russification. Many mosques were closed and during Joseph Stalin‘s reign, many Muslims were victims of mass deportation.[citation needed] In Uzbekistan the end of Soviet power did not bring an upsurge of Islamic fundamentalism, as many had predicted, but rather a religious revival among the population. Currently, according to a Pew Research Center report, Uzbekistan’s population is 96.3% Muslim.[

Prior to the advent of Islam, present-day Uzbekistan had communities of Eastern Christians, including Assyrians (historically associated with Nestorianism) and Jacobites (historically associated with miaphysitism). Between the 7th and the 14th centuries Nestorian communities were established, through an extraordinary missionary effort, in the territory of present-day Uzbekistan. Major Christian centres emerged in Bukhara and Samarkand. Amongst artifacts that have been discovered in Central Asia, many coins with crosses on them have been recovered from around Bukhara, mostly dating from the late seventh or early eighth centuries. In fact, more coins with Christian symbols have been found near Bukhara than anywhere else in Central Asia, prompting the suggestion that Christianity was the religion of the ruling dynasty or even state religion in the principality where this coinage was issued. Several dates for the appointment of the first bishop in Samarkand are given, including the patriarchates of Ahai (410-415), Shila (505-523), Yeshuyab II (628-643) and Saliba-Zakha (712-728). During this time prior to the Arab invasion, Christianity had become, next to Zoroastrianism, the second most powerful religious force in the territory. Marco Polo, who arrived in Khanbaliq in 1275, met Nestorians in many different places on his journeys, including Central Asia. Polo describes the building of a great church dedicated to John the Baptist in Samarkand that was erected to celebrate the conversion of the Chaghatayid khan to Christianity. After Arab invasion, Nestorians were required to pay a poll tax levied in exchange for the privilege of maintaining their religion, were prohibited from building new churches and displaying the cross in public. As a result of these and other restrictions, some Christians converted to Islam. Others factors were such as the plague that swept through at least the Yeti Su area around 1338-1339, that probably wiped out much of the Christian community there, and the economic advantages of conversion to Islam for those involved in trade, since the Silk Road trade by this time was almost entirely in the hands of Muslims. Furthermore, Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo, the Spanish ambassador to Timur’s court, mentions Nestorian Christians, Jacobite Christians, Armenian Christians and Greek Christians in Samarkand in 1404. However, subsequent persecution during the rule of Timur’s grandson Ulugh Beg (1409-1449) resulted in this remnant being completely wiped out.[

Christianity returned to the region after the Russian conquest in 1867, when Orthodox churches were built in large cities, to serve Russian and European settlers and officers. Today most of the Christians in Uzbekistan are ethnic Russians who practice Orthodox Christianity.

There are also communities of Roman Catholics, mostly ethnic Poles. The Catholic Church in Uzbekistan is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope in Rome. Various religious orders such as the Franciscans and Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity have a presence in the country and assist in activities such as caring for the poor, prisoners, and the sick.

Protestants are less than one percent of the population. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Uzbekistan has seven parishes. The seat of the bishop is in Tashkent. A 2015 study estimates some 10,000 believers in Christ from a Muslim background in the country, most of them belonging to some sort of evangelical or charismatic Protestant community.

In 2011, Russian Orthodox Church has celebrated its 140th anniversary in Central Asia that had took place in Uzbekistan. Orthodox Christianity had reached these lands in 1871 after annexation to the Russian Empire by order of Russian Emperor Alexander II stating the decision of the Saint Sinod regarding establishing an independent Tashkent and Turkistan Eparchy. The same year a church was founded near the Tashkent hospital. Today it has turned into a beautiful Cathedral of Holy Dormition – the main church of the Tashkent eparchy. The majority of the believers visit this holy place, though there are few other churches in Tashkent (e.g., the church of Alexander Nevskiy at Botkin cemetery, church of Patriarch Ermogen, church of the Great Prince Vladimir). There are also many ancient churches in other cities of Uzbekistan. In Samarkand there is a Cathedral of St. Aleksey, in Kokand there is the Church of the Kazan icon of the Mother of God and others.

The number of Jews in Uzbekistan is upwardly corrected to 5,000 in 2007, which presents 0.2% of the total population. Only a small minority of Bukharan Jews have remained in Uzbekistan.

The ancient pre-Islamic religion of Uzbekistan-Zoroastrianism survives today and is followed by 7,400 people in Uzbekistan.[

A rite of fire purification, a practice held by zoroastrians to prevent the temple and holy fire from contaminating by their ‘dirty breath’, though to some extent modified, is still practiced by some Uzbeks. When, right after the wedding ceremony, the bride is brought to her young husband’s house, the just-married walk 3 times around the fire, as though purifying themselves. And only after this ritual, the groom takes the bride in his arms and carries her into their chambers.

Get Updates & More

Thoughtful thoughts to your inbox