One would think that finding the qiblat in an 80% Muslim country would be easy.
We were wrong. At every hotel we went to, no one could answer the question – Where is the qiblat? Attempts to mimic the praying action added more to the confusion.
Then, Friday came. We discussed with the tour guide on the day’s plans, making sure that we would have time to be at the mosque in time for the Friday prayer. After the prayer, we all settled down to lunch and chatted. This was when the tour guide passed a comment ‘Today’s prayer is very long. For some reason. It is usually not like this.’
I raised my eyebrows in surprise. I regretted it the next moment because then he replied, ‘I am not a practising Muslim. I am a Muslim but I don’t pray.’
While the Uzbeks readily profess their identity as Muslims, personal understanding of Islam remains rather limited. To understand this, we looked up on its history.
Uzbekistan is a relatively young country – about 27 years old only. Being a former Soviet republic, communism was the rule of the day, and religious activities were very restricted. The borders were closed, and Uzbekistan became isolated from the surrounding Muslim countries, such as Afghanistan and Turkey. Up till today, some elderly remain fond of the old days when ‘communism made everything very simple’. With a population of 32 million, and an area size 600 times larger than Singapore, there are less than 10 madrasah/tahfiz schools in the country, with only 1 school for girls, and the rest for boys*.
However, things are beginning to look up. After mounting pressures from Muslim tourists, there are plans now to ensure that 30% of the hotel rooms in Uzbekistan will have signs of the qiblat, and 10% of the hotel rooms will have a copy of the Quran**.
So, next time when you are looking for the qiblat in a hotel room, ask away. Because for all you know, you won’t just be guided to the qiblat, but you will also help change the direction for others.
*As of 2014
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Sunny Island Travel & Tours Pte Ltd.