Women are banned from studying theology in Turkmenistan – including Islamic theology, the only permitted religious university subject – an official has told Forum 18 News Service. “Only men are accepted for this course,” the State University official – who did not give her name or role – told Forum 18. “Women can’t study there.” She declined to say why this discrimination against women has been imposed. This is the only university-level institution in Turkmenistan where the government allows any religious faith to be studied, and only Islam is permitted to be studied. It is also the only institution where the government allows young men who want to become imams to be trained. Potential imams are not allowed to study abroad, and only a small number of men (some of whom do not wish to become imams) are allowed to academically study any religious topic. Only the Russian Orthodox Church is permitted to send male and female students abroad for their studies, and the possibilities for all other formal and informal (such as Sunday School) religious education and instruction are extremely severely restricted.
Former president Saparmurat Niyazov ordered that basic Islamic principles be taught in public schools. More religious institutions, including religious schools and mosques, have appeared, many with the support of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Turkey. Religious classes are held in both schools and mosques, with instruction in Arabic language, the Qur’an and the hadith, and history of Islam.
President Niyazov wrote his own religious text, published in separate volumes in 2001 and 2004, entitled the Ruhnama. The Turkmenbashi regime required that the book, which formed the basis of the educational system in Turkmenistan, be given equal status with the Quran (mosques were required to display the two books side by side). The book was heavily promoted as part of the former president’s personality cult, and knowledge of the Ruhnama is required even for obtaining a driver’s license. The history of Baha’i Faith in Turkmenistan is as old as the religion itself, and Baha’i communities still exist today.