As the Uzbekistan government continues to crackdown on moderate Muslim groups in its country, a former Fairfield student, Abdul Dadahanov, has been caught in the crossfire and now finds himself in a labor camp, staring down eight years of prison-life, according to a CNN.com article.
The 32-year-old was arrested and accused of being a member of what the Uzbekistan government declared an extremist religious organization. The Uzbekistan government has been known to persecute independent Muslims.
Academic Vice President Orin Grossman and the University asked the Uzbeks to allow Dadahanov to attend graduate school at Fairfield rather than go to prison, also offering housing to his wife Aziza and young son Abdulrahmen.
‘We made the offer of admission in the hopes it would be helpful to get him released from prison,’ Grossman told The Mirror. ‘He is well qualified to attend, although I did expedite the process because of the Human Rights issue.
‘A number of Human Rights organizations, including Amnesty International and others, have been involved with his case and I believe it is important to be helpful on these matters of social justice,’ added Grossman, who said he met Dadahanov a few times at events that honored visiting students.
When Dadahanov arrived at Fairfield University in 2001, he expected to study business. But after the 9/11 attacks, he decided to seek an entirely different education.
Dadahanov, a Muslim who came to Fairfield as part of a program to give scholarships to students from the former Soviet Union, decided there was a better way to spend his time. He thought it was important to help heal the divide between Americans and Muslims, while also bringing back the lessons he learned in the United States to those in his homeland, according to his academic adviser Katherine Kidd.
‘He said, ‘Dr. Kidd, I have to do something to tell people that this is not what Islam is about.’ He said, ‘I want to be part of things that are done here to bring healing to people after 9/11,” said Kidd, a retired Fairfield professor who previously ran the international studies department, to CNN.com.
Dadahanov spent two and a half years at Fairfield before leaving to return to his home country of Uzbekistan.
Kidd also remembered Dadahanov constantly saying that he would like to make his ‘country and community better and stronger.’
The results of what he learned in America have possibly played a role in Dadahanov’s imprisonment. Forum 18, a religious watchdog group, told CNN.com, that he and ‘four other Uzbek men were convicted of dissemination of information and materials containing ideas of religious extremism, separatism and fundamentalism, calls for pogroms or violent eviction of individuals aimed at creating panic among the population.’
Forum 18 added that it is not a unique situation as the Uzbeks have tried to stop members of Nurchilar, a moderate Muslim group that descends from Turkey and follows the writing of a 19th century Sufi theologian.
‘The government has almost a paranoia of any independent religious activity, particularly those related to Islam,’ said Sean Roberts, a Central Asia expert at George Washington University to CNN.com.
‘The Uzbek government tries to control the religious sector very similar to the way the Soviets did. They have a state Muslim board that oversees what is proper Islam – anything that falls out of that scope is seen as threatening and seditious,’ he added.
While at Fairfield, Dadahanov lived with a host family, the Skartvedts, who live in Easton, Conn.
‘It was like being kicked in the stomach,’ said Judy Skartvedt when she heard of Dadahanov’s imprisonment.
Dadahanov began a small prayer room for Fairfield students in the chapel, taught English to local Uzbeks and launched a book drive to send secondhand books back to his home country.
Members of the Fairfield community have attempted to try and contact Dadahanov’s family, but communication has proved to be difficult.
‘The government is tapping their phone and tracking their e-mail,’ Kidd said. ‘We’re pretty much sure neither of those is secure from the government.’