The aftermath of a revolt


An interview of Imam Ramankuli Ramazan Dungansevitch, living in Milyanfan, a village near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan by Fred Daudon

« – My name is Ramankuli Ramazan Dungansevitch. I was born in Kyrgyzstan. I graduated from high-school here. Our ancestors are from China. It has been 150 years since we settled down in Kyrgyzstan. At that time, the Russian Empire was still here. The main reason they left China is because there was a revolt against Qing emperor lead by Hui muslim minority in Shaanxi (ndlr: Xi’an is the capital of Shaanxi province where some Dungans are still living). That’s why our ancestors moved here, they were against the fight. Our imams and rulers at that time were against violence. In total 15,000 Dungans moved from China, but 10,000 Dungans died on the way from hunger, disease. Only 5,000 reached the destination.

– How many are you now?

– In Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan, there are 120,000 Dungans. Only in Kyrgyzstan, theyreare 50,000 Dungans, there are also a few in Uzbekistan, but they are now assimilated to Uzbeks. In Mylyanfan, we stayed all together, that is why we have kept our culture and traditions.

– Is it a place where you have a majority of Dungans living?

– In this village (Mylyanfan), you have also Kurdai people. We are very close to the border with Kazakstan. It is the last village before crossing the border to Kazakstan. We are living on both side of the border. There are 3 more villages where a lot of Dungans are living: Alexanderpietzki region, Ivanavka, Tombdokol.

– How did you become imam? Where did you learn Q’ran?

– When I was 10 years old, I started to search for the reason of everything. I studied Islam with my father first. Then there was an older imam of this mosque and I also learned from him. After 11th grade, I went to Bukkhara’s madrasa, the one in front of Kalon mosque.

I have been there for a year and half and then I moved back here. I also studied with the older imam, I studied Arabic grammar and also translation. Then I went to Egypt with our government’s help. We were 20 people there in 1999. I studied in Egypt for 5 years. And then I returned back to Milyanfan in 2005. Then after a year I have become the imam of this mosque.

– You were talking about translation. I guess Dungan people have their own language. Is it close to Chinese? To Mandarin?

– It is like 50% similar to Chinese! When we actually moved to here, we forgot the writings. So our alphabet is Cyrillic, but the meaning, everything is Dungan. For example, when someone speaks in Modern Chinese, we have to adapt a bit but we can understand a little bit. Simple words in Chinese we can understand them right away.

Coranic School

– The young people there who are learning Q’ran, they are using Dungan translated into Arabic?

– The children are reading in Arabic, but they don’t know the meaning. There is a madrasa being built in here so they are going to teach Arabic grammar and then the translation to Dungan. They don’t know the translation for now.

– When you preach at the mosque, you do it in Dungan or in Arabic?

– I do the prayer in Arab, but then I translate some verses of the Qu’ran in Dungan and in Russian, depending on my audience.

– Is there only Dungans coming to this mosque?

– Generally only Dungans. 80% of the local population is Dungan, 15% is Kyrgyz, 5% are Russians or Uzbeks.

– Do you have any specific tradition in the Dungan community?

– For the wedding and for the birth of a child, we have some traditions. We tried to make it as much as Islamic.

– Can you tell us more about that?

– It is a long story but I will make it short. For example, the wedding tradition. Usually it starts like that: a guy likes some girl. The guy tells his family, his parents that he likes this particular girl and then his family, they send their representatives to the girl’s family and then they ask for their engagement, if they are fine, if they are ready, if they agree to give the girl to their son. Then they wait three days or more, a week maximum. After a week, the parents of the future bride gives their final answer. Then the wedding starts. Our system is different than Europe. Here it is all about consensus. The wedding day starts usually at 8am and the imam comes and does a prayer. All the guests are here. At midday, the imam does a zikr. Then at 1pm the wedding is over. It is quite short.

– Is there any specific symbols for the Dungans? Or object you use?

– Before the wedding, usually the siblings of the groom and the bride, they agree on who buys what. For example, sleeping beds, refrigerator, table… anything which is useful for a house. There is nothing specifically symbolic. Generally the groom and the bride wear traditional dresses and he is explaining that their heads are covered with some sort of flowers. You can go and see the wedding and you will get the whole picture. You can also google it. They also serve national food, plov for example. »


« – What is your name?

– Edik!

– So learning Q’ran at that age is good education!?

– If my children were reading Q’ran and I was drinking alcohol, what would they think about me!

– What are you doing here? You work for the mosque?

– Yes, I am the muezzin. We are two muezzins, one is resting when the other is working. I have 7 grandchildren. It is our future.

– The kids are learning fast?

– Yes, good!

– From which age they are learning Q’ran?

– From 6-7 years old, because they have to speak and read. »


« – What about the relationship with other communities? Is it good? With other religions? With the State?

– Relationships are good, of course sometimes you have criminals in each community but it is not something religious.

– For you, what are Islam’s main lessons? Main principles?

– Important lessons for me would be 1) believe in one God, 2) what we can say about Allah and what we cannot say about Allah is very important, 3) how Allah wants us to believe in the unicity of the God. People wants to know the truth about why they are here, where they are going after death…

– People want more and more and more. Money does not suffice, doesn’t it?

– Money is not a target to us. The Prophet said we are slaves of the God. He explained what should be our relationship with God but also what should be the relationship between slaves of the God. For example you are afraid to lie or to cheat the slave of the God, you are not afraid of the person but actually afraid of the God behind. There are a lot of rules in the world, especially Islamic. What we are seeing now in Irak, in Syria, they are fundamentalists, they are non-educated people, they are not part of Islam because it is not what Islam teaches. There are some people behind them, supporting them for business reasons. They manipulate the world. It is always the same people who are suffering. They are in total freedom to kill anybody.

– They are just bandits?

– Yes, exactly, they are bandits.

– They have nothing to do with religion?

– No. There is no right to force people to accept a religion. People should teach about religion but each individual should decide himself. If the person is looking for the right religion, for the right path, God will definitely help him to find the right way. For example, in a theocratic country, the government will say our religion is Islam or is Christian. People of this country are not afraid of the God but they are afraid of the guns. Police is not a religion. God has told me all these things, otherwise I would not know.

BE Balanced

« – What about Sufi here? tariqa?

– Tariqa, good! Naqshbandiyya, very good! There are certain Sufi who are in the wrong flow. I saw a sufi who was coming from Pakistan and was in Egypt when I was there. He was always carrying a picture of his pir. It is idolatry, it is not good. It is the wrong sufism. In India, Pakistan, in China, you can find real Sufis.

– What about Jama’at Tabligh?

– As long as they are not doing bad or wrong things, it is ok. They should not go to people who are not listening to them but to the people who are listening to them. They are following, let’s say, the medium flow in Islam. Not radical, not moderate. Sometimes I say hello to some of them. I can see a lot of people joining the Jama’at and getting the basics of Islam. Those who are becoming fundamentalists in Tabligh Jama’at are a few.

– They are fundamentalists in any religion.

– But we have to maintain the medium way. Prophet Mahomet said so: the best deeds are balanced, in the medium, not extremists, not indulgents.


– What about the people who are getting to the mazor of Naqshbandi around Bukkhara?

– You are not going there to ask the dead body to help you but actually to ask God to forgive your sins.

– Most of the people there they pray the dead to get something from him?

– Allah will not be grateful with that. In Central Asia, we have Ahmad Yesavi. People come to him to get something, women to get pregnant, asks for blessings, asks for money. It is a bad belief. It is not right. Some people are sacrificing some sheep, chickens… it is not right.

– You were speaking about freedom of religion before, can you freely choose to leave Islam?

– It is like being in heaven and want to leave this and go to hell. People would be crazy to leave heaven for hell. »


« – How does religious education work in Kyrgyzstan?

– We are simply teaching Q’ran and also salat (prayers). We are teaching them to memorize Q’ran, it is called « qari » and the person who knows by heart the Q’ran is called « hafez ».

– They have to first know how to read, then how to pronounce?

– Yes. There is the alphabet first. We teach them the alphabet, then some verses of the Q’ran, then the entire Q’ran.

– At what age a child usually become hafez here?

– They are 10-11 years old. Q’ran is divided in three parts. One part is left for the children you saw. You have beginners, you have elders.

– You manage different ages?

– Yes. They start from the zero grade to the eighth grade and they come after school.

– There are two teachers. You teach the same?

– Yes.

– How did you become teacher?

– I have also studied at madrasa.

– How long does it take to become a teacher?

– You have to study for 5 years, but some for 7 years.

They are also those who want to become a mullah they are studying for 5 years and then go the university.

– At the madrasa, you can become mullah or teacher or?

– Or a translator. I am hafez! »