A Christian daughter was pressured to renounce her faith as the price for burying her dead mother in the local Muslim cemetery. Even after embracing Islam, the daughter was not allowed to bury her mother there. The Christian woman’s body was dug up after burial — twice — because of her faith. Three cemeteries rejected her in quick succession, because she was neither Muslim nor Russian Orthodox, but Baptist.
“They asked me to leave Christianity and convert to Islam,” grieving daughter Jyldyz Azaeva told RadioFreeEurope. A large crowd headed by the local imam refused to allow Azaeva to bury her 76-year-old mother, Kanygul Satybaldieva, in the local cemetery, unless Azaeva agreed to give up her own Christian faith. “I had to accept for the sake of my mother. They force me to do so, and they said they wanted it to be a lesson for others.”
Satybaldieva passed away on October 13 in the town of Sary-Talaa in the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan. Her family planned to bury her in the local cemetery, next to the graves of other members of her generation, but Satybaldieva had been a practicing Christian in an overwhelmingly Muslim village. Religious leaders restricted the cemetery to Muslims.
On the day after Satybaldieva’s passing, the village imam took advantage of the mother’s death to pressure Azaeva to embrace Islam, as the price for burying their mother in the local cemetery!
Azaeva agreed to his demands, but then the imam told her she should bury her mother in her family’s garden. He did not feel any compunction about forcing Azaeva to reject her faith and then failing to fulfill his promise. He had already done enough by saving the daughter from “a foreign religion.”
After this cowardly betrayal, the family accepted an alternative offer by local officials to bury her mother’s body in the nearby village of Oruktu. But after the body was buried, the Muslim leadership there also objected to the presence of a Christian in their cemetery, and ordered the body exhumed.
The local officials then offered to bury Satybaldieva in the municipal cemetery of the district capital, Ala-Buka. Following the second burial, both local Muslim and Christian leaders in the town agreed that she must be dug up again and removed.
Since Satybaldieva was a Baptist, she is considered outside of Kyrgyzstan’s traditionally accepted notions of Christianity, which follow the teaching of the Russian Orthodox Church.
After being rejected from three cemeteries, and dug up after burial twice, the woman was buried in a secret location known only to friends and family.
Her aggrieved widower, 78-year-old Akjol Akaev, was reportedly reduced to tears at the final grave site on October 19. “Oh, my dearest, may you be in paradise now after this ordeal you have been through,” Akaev said in between Muslim prayers. “Whoever did these things to you will surely have to answer for their deeds.”
Next Page: Satybaldieva is far from alone. Many others have been denied burial in Kyrgyzstan.
This is far from the first time a Christian has been denied burial in this mountainous Central Asian country. In its 2016 report on the country, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) noted, “The Kyrgyz government also has not resolved the chronic problem of religious minorities being denied burials in municipal cemeteries controlled by the Muslim Board.”
USCIRF presented a case from August 2015, when “Osh city officials and a local imam did not allow a Protestant to bury her son in their local cemetery and the imam pressured her to renounce her faith.”
Even religious meetings are not free from police interruption. “The same month, 10 police officers raided a Jehovah’s Witness worship meeting in a rented cafe in Osh and brought an imam to convert those present,” the report added. “Police beat one man who was filming the raid; at the police station, officers strangled three Jehovah’s Witnesses until they lost consciousness. According to Kyrgyz human rights activists, the government does not take legal action against police who commit violent acts.”
“In Kyrgyzstan, we have had a whole rash of cases in recent years where imams and village elders have refused to allow non-Muslims to be buried in village cemeteries,” Felix Corley of the Norway-based religious freedom group Forum 18 told RadioFreeEurope. “This has affected Protestants, Baha’is, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Hare Krishna devotees, and there is very little that the families of the deceased can really do about this.”
“The first-ever mufti of our independent country, Kimsanbai Hajji, issued a fatwa banning the burial of followers of other religions together with Muslims,” explained Dilmurat Orozov, spokesman for the Muslim non-profit Islam Taalimi in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, told RadioFreeEurope.