CULTURE AND RELIGION
At the heart of Uzbek culture is its wonderful hospitality, renowned for centuries. From the days when Uzbekistan stood at the crossroads of the Great Silk Road, its grand cities hosted thousands of road-weary tradesmen who sought refuge from the desert and the perils of the open road. These caravans would stay for days at a time, enjoying the gracious generosity that has remained a living tradition to the present day.
The Uzbek Tea Ceremony, a formal and graceful ritual, demonstrates in a very practical way the high priority given to hospitality. When a guest arrives, the hostess will serve tea, usually accompanied by a traditional snack. The freshly brewed tea is poured from the teapot into a ceramic cup and then returned to the teapot three times, allowing the full flavor and aroma of the tea to develop. The fourth time, tea is poured into the guest's cup, filling it only halfway so that it will be the perfect temperature for the guest to enjoy.
The traditions and customs of the Uzbek people have been shaped by their unique position at the crossroads of the Great Silk Road. The treasures that flowed were not only the ones that can be held in one's hand, but also those that touch the heart and soul. Art, philosophy, science, and religious ideals were exchanged, enriching the cultures of both the travelers and their hosts.
Uzbek culture reflects a beautiful synthesis of these influences, while maintaining its own unique traditions. From the harmony of its architecture to the masterful detail of its applied arts, from the busy, noisy bazaars to the peaceful, laid-back chaikhana, a journey through Uzbekistan is unique and unforgettable.
It will be helpful for travelers to be aware of some of the conventions of Uzbek society. For example, when greeting each other, close friends or family members of the same sex will kiss on both cheeks. When meeting someone for the first time, a handshake denotes a formal introduction (however, women will generally not be expected to shake hands with men). At a meal, guests will be expected to take a turn as toastmaster, thanking and praising the host, saying something witty, and wishing good health and prosperity to all present.
Of all the traditions in Uzbek culture, those associated with the family and community is the most important. The community itself is structured self-governing units, the mahallya. These groups of neighbors help each other and together conduct joint activities. Weddings, funerals, commemorative ceremonies, and the rites of circumcision are all organized by the mahallya.
Many Uzbek ceremonies, especially those associated with family life, such as weddings and the birth an upbringing of children, represent the combination of Islamic rituals with more ancient forms related to mystical practices. A wedding involves the whole community, and it is not uncommon to see three hundred guests at the wedding party. The rituals begin with an engagement ceremony, at which the wedding date is set, and end on the day after the wedding with a ceremony in which the bride is formally received into her new family.
When we think of Central Asian civilizations, one of the enduring images is of the beautiful fabrics and decorative needlework used in traditional clothing. Although nowadays most Uzbeks wear European-style clothes, especially in the cities, some elements of traditional clothing are still incorporated. In the countryside and at national ceremonies you can still see people in traditional dress, and even today, gold-embroidered zarchapan (caftan) and turbans made of gold or silver brocade are indispensable parts of men's wedding garments.
During thousands of years Central Asia has been the center of meetings and co-existence of different religions. Exactly religion was the first core of culture, uniting countries and continents, regardless of their nationalities and races. Today, it is obvious that these inter-religious peace and harmony have been preserved and further strengthened.
Uzbekistan is a secular state and the Government does not differentiate between religious organizations due to their size or popularity in the country. All religious organizations – whether they are larger organization like Administration of Muslims of Uzbekistan and the Tashkent and Central Asian Diocese of Russian Orthodox Church, or the small single religious organizations – have similar rights and obligations.
Believers of Uzbekistan freely celebrate all religious holidays. That is why, year-by-year and in a wide scale, Muslims celebrate Id al-Adha and Id al-Fitr, Christians - Easter and Christmas, Jews – Pesach, Purim and Hanukkah. By the decrees of the President of Uzbekistan, Id al-Adha and Id al-Fitr are announced as the national holidays.
During Independence years, thousands of citizens of Uzbekistan have had the opportunity to carry out Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, visit sacred places for Christians and Jews in Russia, Greece and Israel. Pilgrims are provided with comprehensive help by the State, including organization of special flights, medical services, concessionary airfare, support with visa formalities and etc.
Hundreds of mosques, churches and meeting-houses, including Khazrati Imam Complex in Tashkent, Orthodox temples in Tashkent, Samarkand and Navoi, Catholic Church in Tashkent, the Armenian apostolic church in Samarkand were constructed and restored with support of the Government.
The Tashkent Islamic University was established in September 1999 on the initiative of the President of Uzbekistan. The system of religious training also consists of the Tashkent Islamic Institute, 10 madrasas, Orthodox and Protestant seminaries.
During the years of Independence, the Sacred Koran, 16 books of the Old Testament, as well as the whole New Testament were translated into the Uzbek language and published in the country.
In 2004 the Administration of Muslims of Uzbekistan together with the Republican Blinds Society had presented the Sacred Koran printed in Braille script. Uzbekistan became the third state in the world which has carried out this good deed. Nowadays, around 24 thousand citizens, deprived of possibility to see the world with their eyes, reside in our country. From this time special boarding schools, public libraries, as well as all interested persons could be provided with copies of the Koran in Braille script.
Rich intellectual heritage of the people of Uzbekistan, its ancient cultures and religions attract the interest of the international community. The Government promotes increase of foreign visits to Uzbekistan, so the guests can familiarize themselves with dynamic development of the country.
Predominant religion in Uzbekistan is Islam. Uzbeks are Sunni Muslims of Khanafit persuasion. Next dominant religion pursuant to the number of believers is the Christianity, and both of its schools: Orthodoxy and Catholicism. In 2011 Uzbekistan celebrates 140th anniversary of Russian Orthodox Church in Middle Asia. It is easy to count that Orthodoxy came here in 1871 together with joining of these lands to Russian Empire and establishment of Tashkent and Turkistan eparches. The church under Tashkent hospital was established the same year. Today it turned into the most beautiful Cathedral of Holy Dormition – the main church of Tashkent eparch. The majority of believers come exactly here, although there are some more churches in Tashkent (for example, the church of Alexander Nevskiy at Botkin cemetery, church of patriarch Ermogen, the church of the great prince Vladimir). There are some beautiful and ancient churches in other cities of Uzbekistan – in Samarkand (Cathedral of Saint Aleksey), in Kokand (The Church of the Kazan icon of the Mother of God) and etc. Also the convent of Saint Nikola is opened in Tashkent (to the point it is the first opened convent in Middle Asia) and Tashkent theological seminary.
The Catholic confession is not so numerous in Uzbekistan. But the church (kostel) of Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ has been existing in Tashkent almost for a century, which is also the beautiful sightseeing of the city. The history of kostel begins in 1912, when its construction was started. The underlying reason of it was the necessity. As far back as in the end of XIX century, during the military campaign of the General Kaufman on joining Asian lands to Russia, our area was settled by big amount of military and exiled people, which included Germans, Lithuanians, Poles, Czechs and others. Having desire to have its own Catholic parish, they applied to the government on establishment of their confessional church and acquired the permission of its construction. Bur the fortune played a nasty trick on believers: the church was not built in short period, then the construction was stopped at the failure of assets. By that time the Soviet government established on the whole territory of the union, the church in the lack of need was turned into the storehouse, and later into dormitory. And only in 1992 the building of kostel was handed over to catholic parish of Tashkent. And present time Sunday Masses are conducted there.
Churches of other significant confessions in Uzbekistan include Armenian Apostolic church and Jewish synagogues. Speaking about synagogues, it should be noted the Judaism of Bukharian Jews – certain part of Jews, living on the territory of Middle Asia (especially in Bukhara, thence the origin of name). Jewish community in Bukhara is mentioned in sources of XIII century. Jews lived there in separate quarters and engaged in weaving and dyeing crafts, also they were petty traders. Afterwards Bukharian Jews began to settle with big Diasporas in Samarkand, Kokand, Andijan. For past centuries they could save their language, religion and traditions. Today the number of Bukharian Jews in cities of Uzbekistan is extremely decreased: they leave for Israel, America, Australia, Canada… Only two synagogues of Bukharian Jews remained in Bukhara, two – in Samarkand and one in Tashkent, which, by the way, became completely dilapidated and soon will be replaced by new one, the construction of which is under process.