Turkmenistan - Religions

There is no state religion, but about 89% of the population is Muslim, primarily Sunni, with strong elements of local shamanism and Sufi mysticism included in its practices.

Although the constitution provides for religious freedom, the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations, which was amended in 1995 and again in 1996, also provides for significant government control of religion. For example, religious congregations are required to register with the government in order to hold gatherings and proselytize. A congregation must have at least 500 members within the locality in which it is registering. This restriction has caused problems for a number of minority religions, especially the Baha'i faith. Baha'is have been prevented from conducting services since 1997 and have been questioned by Interior Ministry authorities for holding private prayer meetings in their homes. They were permitted to gather in Ashgabat for a single day to celebrate the Nowruz (spring) holiday in March 1998 and again in 1999.

As of 2002, the only two religions that were officially registered were Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodox Christianity.

In January 1999, members of the Gregorian Armenian faith appealed to authorities to use a church pending their registration, but they have not yet received a reply. Jehovah's Witnesses filed an application for registration in January 1997 but remain unregistered, pending correction of mistakes in their application. Subsequent efforts to worship at meetings in their homes resulted in fines and seizures of religious materials.

Ethnic Turkmen, Uzbeks, and Kazakhs are nominally Sunni Muslim. Ethnic Russians, who account for about 7% of the population, are largely members of the Russian Orthodox Church. There are small communities of Roman Catholics, Pentecostal Christians, Seventh-Day Adventists, Baptists, Hare Krishnas, Lutherans, and Jews; however, none of these faiths are legally able to maintain churches.

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