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Family, Sacred Places and Islamic Law:

 Islamic Approach to Reproductive Health in Ferghana

By Svetlana Peshkova
Department of Anthropology, Syracuse University.

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In this report I describe and analyze the relationships between family structures, religious networks and
institutions in the Ferghana Oblast’, Uzbekistan. In the first part of the report I identify several models of family
structures in the area. These models are analytical abstractions that allow the researcher to consider the decision-
making strategies used by the individual members of the families in the area regarding families’ reproductive
health. Yet reproductive decision-making is not limited to the family arena in the oblast’. The networks of
relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors, medical doctors and religious leaders are also involved in reproductive
decision-making processes. Hence, I suggest that the role of religious leaders is crucial in considering the
articulation and implementation of an Islamic dimension of health reform. More specifically, in the second part
of the report I look at the role of religious networks and institutions in intra-family reproductive decision-
making. A strong interest in this role is motivated by my interest in Islam in Central Asia and the desire to find
entry points for an Islamic approach to reproductive health as a dimension of local and national health reform in
Uzbekistan. The final part of the report suggests methodological recommendations for an Islamic health
promotion in regard to reproductive health.
I conducted a pilot ethnographic study of structures of family and religious institutions in Ferghana
Valley, Uzbekistan, in May-June, 2001. The geographic scope of this pilot study included Ferghana oblast’. An
oblast’ is an administrative unit which is smaller than a region but bigger than a county. Later in the report I will
use the term rayon, also an administrative unit, which approximates a township. I utilized the following
ethnographic methods: participant observation, semi-structured, unstructured group and individual interviews,
network analysis, and life histories. The data collected in the field was analyzed in August-September 2001.
This final report reflects an analytical assessment of the ethnographic data. It includes a descriptive analysis and
methodological recommendations regarding an Islamic approach to local health reform.
The report is divided into three sections (1) a description and analytical assessment of the diverse and
fluid structures of family and residence units in the area; (2) a survey of local Islamic networks and institutions,
more specifically networks of otincha
(female religious teachers), the institutions of Imam (religious leaders
and administrators) and doml’ya (local lay and formal religious leaders);
and (3) methodological
recommendations. By institutions, I mean administrative religious units which operate under the government’s
supervision. They have a certain established structure which is not immutable to change. I call them formal
units. By networks I mean non-administrative, not dogmatically organized social relationships. They have fluid
and temporary structures which are (re)created situationally. I call these networks informal, and the individuals
who constitute them - informal religious leaders. In this study, I have identified the basic structures and nuances
of these networks/institutions and individuals who constitute them. These networks are possible entry points for
local and national health promotion in Uzbekistan and possibly elsewhere in the Central Asia. Finally, I
recommend methodological proceedings that (1) are contextually constructive, i.e. accepted as defined by the
local population as traditional
; and (2) legitimize the framework and material, which address issues of
reproductive health and family planning in the ZdravPlus project (Abt. Associates Inc.).
Uzbekistan’s territory in Ferghana Valley includes three oblast’ - Ferghana, Andijan, and Namangan -
and several rayons. Oblast’ is an administrative unit, which is smaller than region but bigger than county. Rayon
is also an administrative unit, which approximates to township. I conducted a pilot study in the Ferghana

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Oblast’ from the 30
of May until the 20
of June 2001. During this time I was able to visit about forty local
families, four masjids (mosques), and two hundred individuals residing in the Ferghana oblast’ in the following
rayons and cities: Yazyavan, Kuva, Ahumbabaev, Altiarik, and Furkat rayons, Ferghana city, Margelan city, and
the city of Kokand. I also made a trip to the Andijan oblast’, the city of Andijan itself, where I was able to
observe and conduct a brief open-ended interview with a human resources manager at a local madrassah
(religious school). I was, however, unable to meet with the madrassah’s scholars and administrators. The
possibility of such a meeting at the time was predicated on permission from a local hakymyat
administrative apparatus), which I did not obtain beforehand. Thus, the data collected during the study, on the
one hand, reflects the limitations of access to the educational and administrative departments of Islamic
institutions in the area. On the other hand, it is informative about everyday religious and social practices in the
aforementioned communities.
I observed, interviewed, and interacted with individuals and groups in the individuals’ homes,
individuals’ backyards, masjids (mosques), bazaars, and clinics. I find it unnecessary to classify some settings as
private and others as public, as indeed, during this study, some private places, such as individual homes, were
situationally transformed into public places during different occasions, such as Arabic language studies or
memorial rituals performed on the fortieth day after a burial service (qirq). On the other hand, seemingly public
places, as masjids, were, private places for the religious authorities and male populations of the locales. Yet,
during my visits these places were transformed into private areas where interviews and discussions about some
personal matters were conducted. Moreover, I intentionally visited with and observed the same individuals in
different settings, such as their homes, bazaars, group gatherings, and readings of namaz (prayers). Hence I
pursued an in-depth study of a relatively limited number of individuals in different settings.
I met more than forty families, extended and nuclear, and over two hundred individuals during this four-
week pilot-study. Some of these individuals, about sixty, are the members of the aforementioned families.
Others, about one hundred and forty, were either consultants or cultural brokers and experts in such areas as
Islamic beliefs and practices, medical practices or reproductive health.
In order to carry out effective and efficient research, my methodological framework consisted of the
following ethnographic methods:
(1) Through the application of participant-observation (e.g., Dewalt 1998), I both participated in and
observed religious practices, individual religious rites and rituals such as qirq (a ritual performed on the
day after the funeral), or duba (feasting and crying at the gravesite). I also observed and participated
in interactions among local religious leaders and local populations, among male and female religious
leaders, and among religious leaders and non-locals (such as migrants and foreigners). While staying on
the weekends in the otinchas’ homes, I tried to systematically observe (Johnson & Sackett 1998) their
everyday lives. Sometimes I took part in domestic chores pertaining to different times of the day, in the
social interactions surrounding them, and in religious rites and rituals performed at home. Thus,
participant-observation allowed me to gain an insight into the domestic chores, religious rites, religious
celebrations, family gatherings, intra-family and communal conflicts, debates, inconsistencies and
compromises in families’ everyday lives (e.g. Lamb 2000).
(2) Structured interviews. Structured interviews were used in the early stage of the project. They included a
preconceived set of questions regarding religious practices and beliefs, morphological structure of the

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families, religious networks and institutions (its members, fluidity of the membership, frequencies of
their gatherings), and their interconnectedness with other socio-cultural institutions in the area such as
the non-governmental organization Ishonchi (Trust) (cf.,Weller 1998). This method helped me to
identify diverse family models, religious beliefs and practices, and communal religious leaders, both
male and female.
(3) Unstructured or open-ended interviews. Unstructured or open-ended interviews covered such thematic
topics as (1) religious beliefs and practices; (2) relations within one’s family; (3) interactions among the
members of an extended family, and among the members of otincha networks; and (4) bodily
experiences and emotional conditions of otincha during the performance of the rituals (e.g. Hare 1988,
Schweder & LeVine 1994). I hope that this open-ended method created a comfortable and safe
environment between the interviewee and interviewer, which was important in the process of building
rapport (cf., LaCompte & Schensul 1999) and crucial in helping me to move from a descriptive to an
explanatory focus in my work. Furthermore, this method made it possible for me to discuss with the
consultants the material dealing with such sensitive issues as Islam, individuals’ spirituality, and
individual relationships with the Divine.
(4) Life history approach. Collecting life histories is another ethnographic method that I applied during the
second part of the project (cf., Johnson, J. 1998). Life history as an autobiographic narration given by an
individual about the most significant events in one’s life was a crucial method at that stage of the
research for two reasons. First, it provided a venue for contextualizing and critically assessing the
available ethnographic data (e.g. Alimova & Azimova 2000, Akiner 1997) and, following Buechler and
Buechler (1996), the re-analysis and re-conceptualization of the complexity of families’ and women’s
experiences in the Ferghana oblast’. Second, individuals’ life histories served as both mirrors and
windows for the assessment of the dynamic religious beliefs and practices and their spiritual and
political impact on individuals’ lives in the area. Hence, the life history approach provided me with an
ability to represent the local diversity of religious women’s experiences (discussed in the second part of
the report), of models of family and decision-making (discussed in the first part of the report), the
processes of transformation of women’s (e.g. otincha’s) positions in the family and society,
transformation of the families in the area, and the contextualization of women experiences vis-à-vis
experiences of other socio-cultural networks within the wider social framework of the region and
globally. Life histories presented an insight not only a contextualized history of individual women, but
also a history of local peoples, and a history of the region and the country (e.g. Kamp 2001).
(5) Network analysis. The final stage of the research and the analysis included network analysis. Firstly,
through the application of network analysis as a sampling method, I connected with a number of
individuals that constitute an individual otincha’s network and probed the intensity (in terms of trust,
reliability, and sincerity) of relationships between and among individuals constituting a particular
cluster (cf., Barnes 1983, Gould 1993). This method helped me (1) to view an individual’s life within a
context of other individuals that s/he interacts with (e.g. Gulliver 1971); (2) to explore the manner in
which an individual constructs her/his identity with reference to those who surround her/him; and (3)
how, in turn, s/he is situated by others (e.g. Buechler & Buechler 1996). Finally, this method allowed
me to trace the regional and extra-regional extant of families’ and religious leaders’ networks later at the
stage of the data analysis.
(6) A survey. This survey was conducted during a group interview and included a set of questions
elucidating local individuals’ knowledge about and attitudes towards reproductive health among the
believers and female religious leaders in the area. Regrettably, I did not have a chance to conduct a
similar survey among the male religious leaders in the area.
The aforementioned research methods complemented each other. These methods allowed the informants to
become the interviewers and the researcher to become an interviewee; also the observed individuals became the
observers of my actions and responses. The awareness of this cultural negotiation informed the latter analysis of
the data. Thus interpretations and suggestions put forward in this report are not absolute. They are informed by
my experiences in and of the peoples living in the region during the duration of the project.

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The project had to do with two broad issues, family structure and religious networks. Forty local families
constituted the sample for the discussion of family structure, and forty local otincha for the discussion of female
religious networks. During the pilot-study I was able to get to know about forty local otincha (ages 28 to 85),
meet with them on more than on one occasion. I got to know closely ten of them. The thirty other otincha I met
on different occasions, yet, I was not able interview them.
The amount of time spent in the field influenced my sampling strategies. The families were chosen, first of
all, on the basis of purposeful sampling in order to reach a targeted sample – local families and otincha -
quickly. I admit that proportionality was not the primary concern in this process. Secondly I used a snowball
sampling whereby I identified a couple of individuals who met the criteria of (1) having a family of her/his own,
and (2) being religious, i.e. practice Islamic beliefs on everyday basis. Then, I asked these individuals to
recommend and introduce me to other individuals whom they knew who met these criteria. Snowball sampling
method allowed me to identify religious networks of otincha, single parent and polygynous families. Thus, the
individuals and families which constituted my sample were not selected randomly. Consequently, the population
sample that I worked with may not accurately represent the population of the Ferghana oblast’. Yet taking into
consideration the time limitations of the research and the sensitivity of such topics as one’s intra-family
relationships and religious beliefs and practices, it was not practically feasible to do random sampling (cf.,
Trochin 1999).
An individual does not exist in isolation but always is situated within a human context. In the Ferghana
Oblast’, this context is the socio-cultural institution of family, which often takes precedence over an individual
and serves as a supporting network in an individual’s everyday life.
The family can both constrain and enable
an individual’s choices. For example, the well being of one’s family can determine the choice of one’s spouse,
yet not to the expense of the individual’s preferences on this matter.
Families in the Ferghana oblast’ are diverse in terms of their composition and functions. I have
identified several models of family structures in the area, which I list below. However, each individual family’s
structure and composition in the Ferghana oblast’ is not limited to the suggested models. These models are
analytical abstractions that allow the researcher to consider the decision-making strategies used by the individual
members of the families in the area regarding families’ reproductive health. More specifically, these models
offer a deeper insight into such matters as who decides how many children should a family have, should a
female of reproductive age (approximately 15 – 45 years old) use contraception and what kind, and when to start
giving supplementary feedings to infants. In order to understand how these choices are made and who makes the
choices, it is important to understand the composition of a family and a household.
Reproductive decision-making can be defined as cultural specifications
…concerning who should have children, when childbearing should start, what is a desirable interval between
children, and [at] what juncture in social aging childbearing should cease” (Polgar, 1972, p. 209; emphasis in the
I want to emphasize that reproductive decision-making is not limited to the family arena in the Oblast’.
The networks of relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors, medical doctors and religious leaders are involved in
reproductive decision-making processes as well. In this report I suggest that the role of religious leaders is
crucial in considering the articulation and implementation of an Islamic dimension of health reform. Below, I
demonstrate the connections between family, reproductive health and religious institutions. But let me begin
with the description of several family and decision-making models.

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Family Structure
Family structure in Uzbekistan is often defined by social scientists as patriarchal, i.e. the decision-
making power is concentrated in the hands of male members of the family, and patrilocal, i.e. a married couple
lives with (or near) the husband’s father’s family (op.cit., Akiner, 1997 p. 227). Based on my research, this
general model neither gives an adequate description of everyday interactions within a family nor does it explain
the meaning and the function of its individual units in regard to reproductive health decision-making. In the
following sections I describe and explicate (1) contextual variation of family models and (2) decision-making
processes within several families in the Ferghana oblast’.
The socio-cultural institution of family constitutes an important aspect of an individual’s life and
provides instruments, such as marriage, that assure social reproduction, i.e., continuity of a society. More
specifically, marriage is a socio-cultural institution and a social process that often involves a man and a woman,
transforms the participants (both physically and socially), the relationships among the kin of each party, and
assures continuity of social patterns through the production of offspring who have certain rights and obligations
(Schultz & Lavenda, 1995 p. 321).
Sonalia, one of the informants, nicely summarized marriage patterns in the Ferghana oblast’:
Marriage…Sometimes we marry our cross cousins or parallel cousins. We cannot marry a brother or a sister, aunts,
uncles or nephews. Often our marriages are arranged. Usually elders (parents and grandparents) would make an
arrangement; women (mothers or grandmothers) more often than men. The groom’s relatives are supposed t o initiate
the arrangement. The bride’s or the groom’s parents should approve the choice of the spouse. If parents do not
approve their child’s choice then the marriage arrangement might be terminated. Parents’ approval is very
important. We, two families, have to live together. If we do not like each other, how can we live together? We all see
and understand that. Even young children agree… (interview, 5/30/01).
It is difficult to generalize about marriage patterns in the Ferghana oblast’. At large there is no single model
which could apply to the peoples in the area. Yet, the research prompted me to make the following conclusions.
First, marriage in the Ferghana oblast’ often is arranged. Out of forty families, thirty-five claimed to have
arranged marriages. Second, the incest taboo excludes immediate relatives such as brothers, sisters, mother,
father, uncle, aunts or nephews. It is possible to marry one’s cross cousins or parallel cousins. Third, there is a
rare marriage pattern among the peoples in Ferghana oblast’: it is an exchange of brides between two otherwise
unrelated families. The brides can be exchanged in the same or different generations. Four families in the area
showed evidence of this pattern. Otherwise marriage partners are chosen on the basis of their education, social
and economic status, and the status and lived experiences of his or her family in the community.
In the Ferghana Oblast’, neolocal and patrilocal are the prevalent patterns of postmarital residence. Almost
three fourth of the sample, thirty families, have patrilocal residence, and one fourth – neolocal. Patrilocal
residence is a common postmarital residence pattern, at least during the initial stage of marriage, in the Ferghana
oblast’. It is represented by a group of consanguinally related men – a male ego, his brothers, their sons, and
their in-marrying wives. In other words, patrilocal residence means that a married couple lives with or near the

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husband’s father. Neolocal residence is a type of residence in which the new couple sets up an independent
household at a place of their own choosing.
Among the families that populate the Ferghana oblast’, neolocal residence in the initial stage of the marriage
is less prevalent. Yet, even the families residing with the parents of the husband, in time (unless the husband is
the younger or the only son) will move into an independent household. The place for a new household can be a
young family’s own choice. This decision is, however, negotiated within the extended family, as the following
Sonalia always wanted to marry a good man who physically and spiritually would resemble her father. Her
supplication to the Allah often included a request for the God’s guidance on the matter of finding an appropriate
spouse. Looking back at twenty-five years of her married life, Sonalia says that the Allah answered her prayers. Alim,
Sonalia’s husband, is a third son in the family of five sons. When he and Sonalia got married they lived with his parents
for a period o f six years. Later they build their own house across the street from his parents in the same qishlaq – they
created their own, separate nest, where their life and work evolved around their growing family. Alim’s job required
him to spend more time in the city and the family moved into a city’s residential district, into a new apartment. The
house in the qishlaq, however, was and still is their home. Alim’s parents and his younger brother with his family live
across the road in the qishlaq. Sonalia’s parents, brothers and their families, and her sister’s family all live in the same
qishlaq as well. Sonalia and Alim’s love for their home in the qishlaq is represented by the poetics of ariq (the body of
the running water on the side of the road), a fruit garden, a sparrow’s nest under the gate’s arch and the shadow of the
grape leaves over the back yard. Additionally, the home means social responsibilities towards the other members of
their extended family. It means social relationships that are nurtured and sustained through the shared talk, food, tears
and laughter in everyday of their lives (recollections from the diary 05/30/01 & 06/12001).
Family types
Based on my observations in May and June 2001, three types of the family structures – nuclear,
extended, and joint - exist in the Ferghana oblast’. These types are intertwined with and complicated by
residence patterns, in that they reflect residence patterns more than they actually reflect extended networks of an
individual and family relationships. Every individual and family in the Ferghana oblast’ were situated within a
wider than family network of relatives and friends. Additionally, family structures in the area are rather diverse,
i.e., they differ from family to family, and fluid, i.e., they change overtime. This is to say that an individual
family type is not static. It has a potential for transformation from an extended to nuclear to a joint type of
family and vice versa, as in fact we see in Sonalia’s story above.
Five out of the forty families that constituted the sample were nuclear families. The nuclear families in
the area consist of two generations, the parents and their unmarried children, and can be divided into
monogamous and polygynous types. In the former type, a husband has one wife and intra-family relationships
evolve around relationships between husband and wife, parents and children, and among the children.
In the research sample two families out of forty were polygynous. In the polygynous family, a husband
has more than one wife. The wives may or may not know about each other’s existence, and may or may not
have children. A second wife usually lives in a separate household, although anecdotal evidences suggest that it
is possible for both wives to share the same household if the first wife is either infertile or needs medical care. In
the case of the two families, the wives did not share the same household and knew about each other existence.
Both of them had children from parented by the same man. One of these two marriages was a legal marriage;
another one was legitimized as a religious marriage (nikoh in Arabic).
The relationships between co-wives in Ferghana oblast’s families differ in intensity and intimacy. In
one of the interviews (06/01/01), the interviewee stated that it is possible that co-wives occupying the same
residence unit would interact with each other more often and create some sort of a friendly or a competitive
bond. The relationships among them would therefore differ from the relationships between the co-wives residing
in different households. During the research I did not observe or to interacted with families with co-residing co-

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wives, and consequently was unable to test the intensity of these relationships. Thus, it is possible that the
polygynous families are not extended in the area.
Hence, the relationships among the members of polygynous families in the area revolve around the
same relational lines as in monogamous families and, additionally, around relationships between husband and
co-wives, between co-wives and among their offspring. Finally, relationships within polygynous families
transform over time as well: spouses may get a divorce, remarry, change residencies, or die.
Annush’ and Nargiza’s life-histories exemplify the relationships and their possible (trans)formations between
two co-wives and between the co-wives and their husband:
Annush’s husband kept his second marriage a secret. Annush knew about his second marriage; a friend-of-a-friend
broke the news to her. She never reproached the husband on this matter. They continue to live as if nothing had
happened. Her husband would occasionally spend the nights elsewhere. Annush never asked where or why. When they
did spend time together, he was very generous and kind – “because of guilt” says Annush. They talked about their
kids, relatives, and petty everyday problems. They did not talk about love; they had no time. The now-co-wives would
occasionally meet at communal affairs, such as “qirq” (a memorial service) or a “toy” (a wedding). They exchange a
couple of friendly phrases and even occasionally visit each other. Annush could not and did not want to compete with
the second wife for their husband’s love and affection. She did not hate the second wife. She did not hate her husband.
She felt nothing: nothing at all. Annush used to say that everything that she felt for her husband died inside of her. It
was burning, but now his place is empty and the only thing that keeps her going in this relationship are her children,
their well-being and future (field notes, 6/6/01).
On the way to a friend’s house, Nargiza was whispering in my ear the story about her mother’s disclosure of her
father’s second marriage. After the unpleasant discovery, Nargiza’s mother spent weeks in contemplation about the
future of h er marriage and family. In a year period Nargiza’s parents were divorced. “The divorce was my mother’s
decision,” Nargiza remarked at the end. She smiled (field notes, 6/22/01).
I have also identified single-parent families among families in the Ferghana oblast’. These families include a
single mother, who can be a widow, divorced or not married, and a child or children. The mother and her
children reside either neolocally, or in her natal household (with her parents). The ex-husband is expected to
bear social and financial responsibility toward his children. The in-laws, ex-husband’s parents and other
relatives participate in the children’s lives as well. More often, however, it is the wife’s parents who provide
social and financial support for the children and the mother. Three families in the sample had wife’s parents care
for the children and the mother. In rare cases, the single mother bears all the weight of social and financial
support for her children. Finally, divorced or widowed spouses are able to remarry and create new families.
Mahutpharat’s husband died in a car accident a couple of years ago. Her mother-in-law could not bear his death and
committed suicide. Her older daughter died in childbirth. Her daughter’s husband, a drag addict, is incarcerated and
will not get released for another five years. So now Mahutpharat is taking care not only of her younger children – she
has another daughter and a son - but also of her two grandchildren. Mahutpharat’s parents are too old to help her
with the kids or financially. The in-laws do not help either. So, Mahutpharat, a forty two year old woman, has to rely
upon her wits and hard work, doing a little trading at the local bazaar, and rely “upon the Allah and kind people” in
order to raise four children. “We live one day at a time, Svetlanahon. One day at a time. We do not complain,” said
Mahutpharat in one of the interviews (field notes and interview, 06/20/01).
The majority of families in my research sample (thirty families) were extended, meaning that three or four
generations – parents, married children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – live together. Extended
families transform overtime. Married children move to newly built homes or apartments. Parents die. It is a
younger son and his family (his wife and children) who usually stays with his parents and provides for them
both physically and financially. Hence, extended family as a social unit persists in the Ferghana oblast’.
Extended family is a general and vague category. Following Kolenda (1968), I suggest to talk about family
structures in the oblast’ in terms of the joint family category, i.e., a family, which includes two or more related
married couples. Applying this category to the sample I suggest that there are more lineal joint families than

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collateral joint families in the oblast’. Following Kolenda (1968) by lineal joint families I mean two couples
with a lineal link between them, such as parents and a younger married son. By collateral joint families I mean
two or more married couples with a sibling bond between them, such as “brother-brother relationships - plus
unmarried children” (Kolenda 1968:346).
Families’ metamorphoses
As I have stated in the previous sections, family structures in the Ferghana oblast’ are fluid. For
example, in a nuclear family an older son gets married and his wife moves into his parents’ household. They
have a child and the family becomes lineal joint family. When the same son marries a second wife, the family
becomes polygynous (often without parents’ and the first wife’s knowledge). From the other vantage point, the
son, his second wife and their children represent a nuclear family. Later, the younger son gets married and his
wife moves into his parents’ residence. When the elderly parents die, the family is no longer lineal joint family.
It becomes a collateral joint family, where brothers and their wives or sisters and their husbands live together. If
the elder brother’s first wife gets a divorce and moves out; he and his second wife becomes a monogamous
couple. These transformations of the same family provide different opportunities for relationships among the
family members at different points of the family’s history.
The transforming family structures imply the continual transformation of relationships among its
individual units, which are directly reflected in the decision-making processes within a family. These changes in
social relationships make decision-making processes within a family multi-layered and complex. I want to
emphasize that consideration of multiple actors and their contesting agendas is extremely important in the
analysis of the decision-making processes within a family. Consequently, the decision made in the process is
shaped by the multiple points of view and therefore bears their imprint. Thus, intra-family decision-making
processes are negotiated: even a dominant actor’s agenda in the process of decision-making is mediated and
contested by other actors’ agendas. Finally, while making a decision the actors often consider the outcomes of
the decision and possible changes in the social relationships.
The following brief life-story exemplifies this process:
Giving into her husband and mother-in-law’s insistence she decided to stop using IUD and get pregnant. Before
executing the decision, she consulted with her mother and her gynecologist. No health reasons are given to the
prevention of pregnancy. The contraception could be terminated. She realized that the decision to terminate
contraception would affect her husband, her in-laws, her children and her parents. Her husband will perform sexually
more regularly in order to impregnate her. He will also have to start thinking about saving money for a future child.
Her in-laws, as she happens to live with her husband’s parents, will start preparing presents for a future grandchild,
thus decreasing the allowance for other family needs. Her sister-in-law will take on a partial physical load of house
chores that the expecting mother is responsible for. As a result, small complaints will grow into conflicts between her
and her sister-in-law. Although her parents may expect to see their daughter more often in their house, where she can
rest from the house duties and the routine, she anticipates her brother’s wife to be disappointed with the additional
cooking and cleaning. Her children are expected to take part in the child caring and to share their food. After a critical
reassessment of the expected social and financial changes, the husband and the wife decided to postpone having a child
(field notes, 06/15/01).
Although individuals may consider the outcome of the decision, the outcomes do not solely determine their
behavior. For example, an additional child in a family with five children might be a financial burden for this
family; the financial burden would not necessarily preclude the family from having the child. There are no
theoretical axioms, which would explain the variety of human choices (see Crosbie, 1972).

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Marriage and family are not abstract socio-cultural systems as they form a critical part of individuals’
lived experiences. Their crucial aspect is sexual intercourse. Spiro argues that a desire for sexual relationships is
a strong motivation for getting married (Spiro, 1997). In the Ferghana oblast’, marriage is in a sense a formal
prerequisite for becoming sexually active, at least for females. I have not gathered any data that would allow me
to address premarital affairs.
Intercourse brings both physical and spiritual pleasure to the parties engaged in it and serves as a
reproductive social mechanism. Every society is concerned with “self” perpetuation. In order to ensure its social
reproduction, a society develops a complex of ritual practices and beliefs which are a subject to change. There is
a complex of ritual and social practices and beliefs that ensures reproduction in the area. First, there is a strong
ideological drive to have many children. Children are thought of as the wealth of the old days, even if they are a
financial disaster in their youth. Second, there are several social practices already in place in the Ferghana
oblast’ which regulate reproduction. In the following sections I will discuss some of them.
Predominant medical methods of contraception
Abortions and IUDs are still the predominant methods of fertility regulation in the Ferghana oblast’ (as
elsewhere in the post-Soviet world). Only in the last ten years did the medical emphasis begin to shift from the
termination of a pregnancy to preventive contraception. Still the majority of women in the area use IUDs.
According to local gynecologists (six local gynecologists were consulted on different occasions), IUDs often
create problems with the menstrual cycle (field notes, 06/04/01). Their improper maintenance results in vaginal
or ovarian infections and inflammations.
At a group interview with twelve local women at one of the local clinics, the women stated that on the
matter of contraception they often decide themselves.
But the women also identified a number of actors who
influence their decisions: the gynecologist, husband, mother-in-law, sisters, and their friends. Islamic rights and
obligations, such as moral and financial responsibility towards children and the need to consult with their
husbands on the matter of contraception, influence women’s decisions as well. Some women reported that they
followed their gynecologist’s recommendations. Others gave priority to their husband’s advice about a method
of contraception, yet others made this decision themselves or got an advice from their friends.
Ten of the twelve women reported using an IUD as the main contraceptive device. The women’s
preference of the IUD device seems to be based on three main factors: IUD’s efficiency (“easy to take care of”),
its relative low maintenance (“less visits to the doctor”), and its monetary value (“it costs less than other
methods”) (interview 06/04/01). Two women reported using a surgical method of contraception, terminal or
temporary sterilization.
None of the women reported taking contraceptive pills. A fear of hormonal imbalance
seems to be socially pervasive among the local women. I suggest this fear in part precludes women from using
oral contraceptives. The women also reported that there are several families in their qishlaqs (villages) and
elsewhere who have ten to sixteen children, and expressed a concern about social and financial conditions of
these large families (interview 06/04/01).
To summarize, within a majority of local families in the area, the mother–in-law and the husband play
important roles in the decision-making regarding reproductive health of the family (field notes 06/04/01,
06/10/01). Yet, the contemporary socio-political and economic conditions in Uzbekistan made the Ferghana
oblast’s families and their structures more flexible and adaptive. Consequently, reproductive decisions
increasingly include other extra-family actors. Friends, co-workers, religious leaders, international groups and
companies, and mass media have their stake in the process of individual decision-making as well. Hence, the
local women are not passive victims, but active participants in the decision-making process regarding their
reproductive choices. Local gynecologists and nurses play an important role in the reproductive health of a

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family through the local clinics, which provide in-patient services for and home visitations of local women and
their families and general reproductive health promotion.
Additionally, in the single-parent families, the main actors in the reproductive decision-making
processes are the female, her parents, and her current partner. In the polygynous families, the decision-making
processes regarding reproductive health is more complicated. In order to understand these processes, one has to
make a distinction between the first and the second wives: their reproductive decisions may be premised more
on the desire to compete for the husband’s attention, or to terminate pregnancy as a result of the disillusionment
in the husband and failed expectations of the monogamous marriage. The wives’ place of residence also plays an
important role in the decision-making processes. The wife living with the husband’s parents may be subjected to
the pressure by her mother-in-law, whereas the wife living in the neolocal residence would consider her own
mother’s advice on the reproductive matters. These decisions also reflect the socio-economic standing of the
families. Thus, to say that mother-in-law and husband play important roles in the family’s decision-making
regarding reproductive matters is not to say that these roles are limited to the aforementioned structural
positions. Other actors and other considerations are as important and as persuasive in the Ferghana oblast’.
Folk contraceptive practices
Discussion of sexual intercourse is a taboo topic, which is raised only within a safe and friendly or medical
environment. It usually resulted in the following response among the women in the Ferghana oblast’,
I used different methods of contraception: I used injections, I used IUD, and I also had an abortion. But none of the
methods worked for me. With IUD I had bleeding; through injection I’ve developed disgust towards my husband.
Condoms do not work for us. My husband does not receive full pleasure (interview, 06/01/01).
When medical contraception fails to provide comfortable and safe physical condition, women can always fall
back on the folk methods.
During the study I collected data which reflects some of the folk contraceptive methods in the Ferghana
oblast’. These methods are as follows:
Menstrual calendar based on the 28
days cycle: 1-8
day is safe for intercourse; 10-20
day – unsafe;
21-28 is safe.
A tampon with cotton oil is inserted inside the vagina before the intercourse.
Manganese-water under pressure is used to wash out the sperm from the vagina after the intercourse.
In order to create an alkali environment a piece of lye-based household soap is inserted inside the
vagina before or/and after an intercourse.
The practice al-azl (coitus interruptus) is another contraceptive method, which is supported as a
sanctioned method of contraception in the Qur’an.
Personal urine is used to wash out the sperm outside and inside the vagina.
Condoms are also used. Yet, they are believed to cause skin irritation and to decrease the level of
pleasure during intercourse. Males complain about negative effects of condoms more often than
Another important social mechanism that regulates reproductive choices is a postpartum sex taboo. By
postpartum sex taboo, I mean a fallow period or a period of rest of the mother after the childbirth, whereby a
wife and a husband are supposed to abstain from sexual intercourse for forty days after delivery. In practice,
however, sexual intercourse can reconvene as soon as a week after the delivery. Some women admit that if their
husbands insist, they have to comply, not necessarily uneagerly (field notes 06/04/01, 06/1/01). One of the
strategies employed by women in order to assure a fallow period is to move into their natal homes (with their
parents) for forty days. Although the period of forty days is formulaic - it is required by the Islamic Law – in
practice it is often violated. The postpartum sex taboo serves as one mechanism of contraception. The period of
lactation assures a certain level of contraception as well. According to the Shari’ah, the length of the lactation

Page 12
period is ninety weeks, meaning that a baby should be breastfed for two years at least, and a female would not
conceive for this period of time. In practice, however, this period is often shortened, both because lactation-as-
contraception fails and a female gets pregnant, or because of other socio-economic considerations.
The most elaborate social practices and beliefs are related to female infertility. The issue of infertility is
especially poignant in a context where ideological framework about individual existence and socio-cultural
benefits is predicated on the female fertility and female procreative abilities (for a comparative analysis see
Inhorn, 1996). There are different contextual ways of addressing female infertility in the Ferghana oblast’. Aside
from the medical treatment that every woman is supposed to have an access to through “women’s
infertile women use other folk methods of overcoming infertility. Some of these methods are
visitation and veneration of the sacred places, purchase of neonatal infant’s hair, and certain physical procedures
and prayers, which are performed by the folk healers and religious leaders. Considering spatial restrictions, I am
unable to talk at length about every method. Thus, for the purposes of the report I will briefly describe the
aforementioned methods.
Sacred places are in abundance in the Ferghana oblast’. Such sacred places in the area as Yuvosh ota-pirim,
Hujand Poshsho, and Bibi-Fotima are burial places of saints with a mausoleum or a fenced grave. Some of them
are situated in the parks, next to the graveyards, and become places of communal gatherings and feasting in the
oblast’ qishlaqs. The burial places of the saints are separated from the feasting areas.
Infertile women come to the sacred places to be healed both spiritually and physically and become pregnant
shortly after. They come early in the morning and stay at the place for several hours. They often bring a
domestic animal which will be slaughtered near the sacred place, along with vegetables and fruits, a piece of
white cloth and some money. The sheikh (a male or female keeper of the place) receives the white oqaqk (cloth)
of about three meters. The oqaqk can also be left on the sacred gravesite. The meat of the slaughtered animal
and vegetables are used to cook osh (rice and lamb dish) and/or domlah (meat and potatoes dish). Before the
food is cooked and consumed, women clean the space around the sacred grave. They sprinkle water and sweep
the ground. These actions symbolize both the respect for the saint and the purification of the holy ground and
women’s bodies from negative spirits and “evil eyes,” which believed to affect women’s ability to conceive.
The water settles down both the dust and women’s anxiety (field notes, 06/06/01, 06/14/01, and 06/14/01).
Another remedial practice regarding female infertility (or miscarriage) is a purchasing of a neonatal infant’s
hair. This practice includes a longitudinal set of rituals that start with the purchase of the infant’s hair. Strictly
speaking, this purchase is not an economic transaction. One does not simply buy infant’s hair. One exchanges a
gratuity fee for the infant’s hair. The purchased hair is kept under the woman’s pillow for several days, and then
put in a suitcase. If a female did get pregnant sometime after the ritual, she has to thank the saint. Furthermore,
her newborn baby’s hair becomes a valuable unit in this shared chain of fertility. The infant’s hair, a small area
on the top of the child’s head, is kept unshaved until a sequential ritual of shaving the hair is performed.
In a year, the family that has been blessed with a child sacrifices a lamb and redistributes the meat among
their neighbors, relatives, and the poor, so that all of the above would enjoy the meal and give thanks to Allah
for this blessing. The family makes osh (a lamb and rice dish) and consumes it within the family circle. The
elders in the family or religious leaders, otincha (female religious teachers) or mullah (male religious teachers)
invited for this occasion, read the Qur’an during the meal and give thanks to Allah for the child. Later this day
the unshaved piece of the baby’s hair is shaved off (either at home or at the sacred place)
and brought back to
the sacred place. Someone else will purchase it and possibly conceive a child perpetuating this chain of shared
Finally, there are folk remedial procedures performed by local healers or/and otincha that are thought to
treat infertility. I disclaim the popularity of these procedures. They are used very infrequently, if at all. Yet,
these procedures still constitute the cultural memory about methods which address the issue of infertility.
The local healers are called momokamper or karakamper, meaning elderly women. They said to possess
special knowledge and power to appeal to the appropriate divine source
and to perform certain methods of
massages that “awake” and “develop” female procreative organs. The ritual often includes prayers and sacrifice
of chickens or other domestic animals. The massages are performed afterwards. Some momokamper
recommend using hot sand on the stomach of a barren woman. Others recommend buying infant’s hair at the
sacred places, while some momokamper prepare a steam bath and perform vaginal massages.

Page 13
Although women are the primary patients of the momokamper, she also treats men who are impotent or
sterile. I was told that there are special sacrifices and special herbs collected in the mountains to treat men’s
impotency. Since males often keep their impotence a secret, the details of these procedures are mainly unknown.
Another physical procedure that is thought to cure infertility or to prevent a possible miscarriage is “the
shaking of the stomach”. The momokamper smoothly palpates and then shakes the stomach of a pregnant female
who previously had one or several miscarriages. This movement is thought to awaken the baby and prevent a
miscarriage. It has been reported that if a female cannot get pregnant (often diagnosed infertility), her internal
organs – uterus in particularly - need to be “awakened” as well (an interview, 06/20/01). In this case the
momokamper prepares a black chicken’s egg, which is warmed up and cracked. The yolk of the egg is put in the
palm of the momokamper’s hand and then inserted into a female’s vagina. The vagina is said to “sack in the
yolk.” The yolk is believed to enhance female’s fertility.
Indeed, in the Ferghana oblast’, reproductive practices are situated on the crossroads of intra-family
relationships, socio-economic considerations, social control of sexuality and personal networks. By intra-family
relationships I mean the transforming relationships among the husband, wife, in-laws, children, and other
relatives who co-reside or not within a household. Social networks are extremely important in regard to
reproductive practices as well. All members of the local communities are positioned within constantly
transforming social relationships that include family members, members of one’s household, neighbors,
professional acquaintances, co-workers, doctors, teachers, friends, local religious leaders, and local authorities.
Sumaya’s story exemplifies how a decision-making process regarding her reproductive health became the
concern of many individuals (members of her personal networks). This process transformed the participants and
the relationships among them. Hence, Sumaya’s reproductive health is an ongoing process and multileveled and
complex project, which is still unresolved (personal communications, An-Naim, 1997). This story is based on
interviews, observations (06/02/01 – 06/22/01), and more recent electronic communications (07/07/01).
Sumaya’s story
I met Sumaya at her brother’s “toy” (wedding). I did not see her right away. She was hiding behind the piles of cloths
and scarves that were given as presents to the newlyweds.
At the “toy” everyone seemed to have a good time. A band from the city of Fergona (Ferghana) was performing a
high-pitch, rich in cords and differing notes, melody. Its upbeat rhythm made my feet and shoulders move with the
singer’s voice, along the hyperbolic line of melody. Some guests were dancing. Others were watching and talking.
They would occasionally come into the dancing area and put banknotes in the hands of the dancers. The decoration of
the dancers with banknotes would later become a gratuity fee to the band.
The groups of guests rotated around the clock. I got into this spinning visiting crowd around 1 p.m. at the time when
men were cooking “osh” (rice and lamb dish). “Toy” is a special occasion, I was told, where women are only helping
the men by serving the food to the guests. They had done their share of cooking the night before. The tables were
gendered, except for the one with the foreigners. I was positioned there first, and later moved to several other tables:
one for women only, another only for men. There was also a generational separation among the tables and their
occupants. The elders were seated at some tables and youngsters, mainly kids, were at the others. The friends of the
newlyweds had not yet arrived that afternoon.
After practicing my “Iltimaz kishiri rsimga olsam mailimi?” [I am sorry; can I take your picture?] I ventured into the
breathing, pinching, and chuckling crowd of children who led me into the space occupied by the older women. These
women, the mother of the groom among them, allowed me to enter the living space of the newly weds. This is where I
found Sumaya. Her mother apologized, “My older daughter who is married, Sumaya. She is not well. She has a
headache.” Generously permitting me to photograph the presents hanging one over the other on every wall, in several
rows, and piled up on the floor, the mother left the room. I stayed there for a moment, uncomfortably hiding my gaze
and curiosity into the piles of presents, while feeling Sumaya’s eyes burning through my right temple. I turned
towards her and asked her name again. “Sumaya” she replied in Russian, her voice trembling. She smiled. I
interpreted her smile as willingness to talk and off we went into the celebrating crowd outside.

Page 14
While in the crowd, I was afraid to let Sumaya’s hand go. I did not want to lose a chance to hear her story, to
understand this sadness in her eyes and weakness of her voice. I was afraid never to found out why was she there
without her husband, why did she have a headache, and why was she hiding? Millions of mysterious and exotic
scenarios battled in my head “she loves her brother… no, she hates her husband whom she’s married against her
will…maybe, she is abused by her husband or mother-in-law…or, she is pregnant and does not want his child…
possibly…” The real answers to these questions escaped me.
I was wrong about all of these scenarios. What really mattered to Sumaya at that time was infertility. She could not
get pregnant. Not that I asked her about it. She initiated this information herself.
Sumaya got married last year (2000), when she was 22 years old. The mullah from the “qishlaq” (village) performed
the ceremony. Sumaya and her husband never used contraception. The year passed, but she was not pregnant. Later
she was diagnosed with a small “undeveloped” uterus. Sumaya knew that it was a medical issue: it was not a curse
or God’s punishment. She understood that there were ways of improving her condition. She also realized that it has
been a year of medications, hopes, injections, hospitals, reassurances, yet, she could not conceive. “The only thing
that I want”, said Sumaya, - her words cut through the music and the noise of the wedding - “is to have a baby. I am
afraid I will not be able though.” She smiled. I swallowed the tears that were not allowed on such a wonderful day.
“Our choices” I thought, “our priorities…” I was working on finding the ways to promote contraception and family
planning. She was working on getting pregnant by any means necessary. If it took injections of penicillin in her
ovaries, Sumaya was ready for it. If it took a stay for a couple of months in the hospital, Sumaya was ready for it as
There was a reason why Sumaya decided to share this personal information with me. When we were talking about her
wedding, she disclosed her condition abruptly. One would think that infertile women would try to avoid the topic. In
fact to ask them about their condition is considered a cultural felony in the Ferghana oblast’. I was not about to cross
the boarder of cultural propriety. It was Sumaya who was interested in what I knew about reproductive health,
infertility and the ways of treating it specifically. Her eyes filled with hope; her face brightened up. In response to her
inquiry, I promised to find out what else can be done in regard to the treatment of infertility except for the methods
that she has used so far.
For the next couple of days I asked those whom I knew in the Abt’s office and among the Peace Corps volunteers
about the most efficient treatment of infertility and about a facility that provides s uch treatment. In three days, I found
the address of and the connection to the best clinic that specializes in treatment of infertility in Uzbekistan, in
I drove this information back to Sumaya’s father’s home. She, visibly slimmer and sadder, met me at the gates. Her
father-in-law was there as well. I collected all my bluntness and spoke out my mind about the necessity of both
Sumaya and her husband being tested for infertility and possibly going for treatment in Tashkent together. Her father-
in-law agreed. She smiled. Her father smiled as well, but his eyes were touched with sadness. Sumaya’s mother ran to
the kitchen to get another teapot of green tea. When Sumaya’s father-in-law left, her mother started to cry, wrapping
in tears the story about a difficult life without children, people’s talk, in-laws aloofness, her hurting heart, and
Sumaya’s pain that the mother has to share with the daughter. Sumaya’s father patted his wife on the shoulder and
walked with me into the room - swiping the tears off his face - where he promised to collect enough money to send
Sumaya to the Tashkent clinic. I do not think that he made a promise to me. Who am I, a visitor that will be gone in a
couple of weeks? I think he made a promise to himself, using me as a witness.
Sumaya was hospitalized in two days after our last meeting with high blood pressure and persisting headaches. The
latest news that I received through the electronic mail about Sumaya was encouraging. She was out of the hospital
and her father was saving money for she and her husband’s trip to Tashkent.
In the Sumaya’s story, her reproductive behavior became not only her and her husband’s family’s concern.
Different individuals played and continue to play important roles in the decision-making processing regarding
her infertility and possible pregnancy. Some of these actors are Sumaya’s parents, her distant relatives in
Tashkent, her father’s and mother’s friends in the Ferghana oblast’, her college friends and co-workers in the
city of Ferghana, local religious leaders, the researchers (myself included), and the Peace Corps volunteers who

Page 15
are American citizens. Sumaya’s reproductive health is now both a local and a global concern. Second, these
processes are multi-layered and complex. They are predicated on the economic status of Sumaya’s family, her
in-laws’ and her parents’ families. Such questions as how much should be invested in the medical treatment and
who will contribute the money are crucial in the processes of decision-making about Sumaya’s reproductive
Let me now turn to an examination of the religious networks and institutions active in the Ferghana oblast’. I
will present a survey of local Islamic institutions; more specifically, networks of otincha (female religious
teachers and leaders), institutions of the Imam (mosques’ leaders and administrators), and doml’ya (local
mullahs). I want to clarify the terminological divergence between networks of otincha and institutions of the
Imam and doml’ya.
By institutions I mean administrative religious units which operate under the government’s
supervision. They have a certain established structure which change slowly over time. I call them formal units.
By networks I mean non-administrative, not rigidly organized social relationships which are reflective of the
“dynamics in relations between interdependent human beings” (Boissevain, 1973: viii). They have fluid and
temporary structures which are (re)created situationally. I call these networks informal, - and the individuals
who constitute them - informal religious leaders.
I have identified the basic structures and nuances of these networks/institutions and the individuals who
constitute them. My primary focus, however, is on the networks of female religious leaders, local otincha.
Alimova and Azimova (2000) in the article “Women’s position in Uzbekistan” define otincha as “a woman
who knows the Arabic script, who can read religious books and who strictly follows all Islamic regulations”
(2000:301). The authors argue that otincha,
…[I]s an active participant in the burial rituals cycle and religious rites…she teaches the family…how to execute the
rites and how to behave during mourning…she attends ceremonies. During the burial rites, she reads religious books
(Alimova & Azimova, 2000 p. 302).
Alimova and Azimova’s (2000) description of an otincha’s position in a local community in Ferghana
oblast’ is centered on the otincha’s functional role. More specifically, otincha are represented as a group of old
women who keep “traditional customs and rituals” (p.302). This initial introduction to the otincha was enhanced
by my acquaintance and friendship with a number of the local otincha in the area. In the sections below, I
provide a more detailed description of otincha, focusing most on the otincha as a network of individuals with
particular experiences. To this end I raise the following questions sequentially: Who are the otincha? What is
their role in a local community? Where can we position them vis-à-vis other socio-religious institutions in the
Ferghana oblast’?
(1) Who are the otincha?
Otincha are informal female religious leaders – spiritual mentors and religious advisors - who read and chant
the Qur’an and Sunnah (Hadiths
and ‘traditions’) on those occasions when one needs to receive a blessing or
advice about mundane affairs, to secure success in one’s endeavors, to carry out a promise, or to perform a life-
cycle ceremony. To say that otincha are informal female leaders is not to say that they do not have sufficient
Islamic education, knowledge of Islamic doctrine, Islamic history and the Law. Some otincha are graduates of

Page 16
the local madrassahs and others are self-taught.
Otincha are highly respected, both in their locales and beyond
by males and females, young and old, particularly by those individuals who are aware of otincha’s existence and
are practicing Muslims. Otincha can also perform healing rituals.
On the first day in the city of Ferghana, I heard the manager of local Abt’s (ZdravPlus) office alluding to “otincha”
(local female religious leaders). The second time the word was uttered a day after my arrival by an older female,
Sonalia, who was to become my interpreter, my teacher, and my entry point into the local “otincha’s” network. The
first question that I asked Sonalia was about “otincha,” these mysterious religious leaders. Sonalia pointed out that
there are two words which are used in relation to these females: a folk word “otincha” and “scientific” term
“otonoi.” “Otonoi means a teacher, a female that is versed in religious matters,” explained Sonalia. Little did I know
that I was talking to the otincha, or that I, myself, will be called “otincha” later on (recollections from the diary
05/28/01 – 06/01/01).
In a couple of days, while visiting families in one of the oblast’ qishlaqs (villages), I met Naina (06/03/01).
Everyone called her a “young” otincha. She was fifty years old. The “old” otincha in the qishlaq was eighty.
First, Naina led several female members of our host’s extended family, Sonalia, and myself in a prayer. After
the prayer we started our conversation. Naina gracefully agreed to share her life story with those present at the
dastarhon (feast).
Naina’s parents encouraged her to study Arabic and read the Qur’an. They used to say that every time when she says
Bismallah her parents would “feel better” in the afterlife and they definitely will go to heaven. Naina was home
schooled by another local “otincha.” It was she, who helped Naina to study Arabic, the Qur’an, and the history of the
Islam when she was twelve years old. It was not an easy enterprise, Naina had to juggle her house chores and studies
at the same time. When she was a “kizbollah” (a girl) it was not that difficult. When Naina got married, however, to
negotiate her studies and family duties became more problematic. She gave birth to five children, had a full house in
her hands, but still found time to read “namaz” (pray) five times a day. When her kids grew up, she started to go to a
different” otincha.” Naina continued to learn more about Islam and finally read the whole Qur’an, the Hadith, and
other religious books. “We teach each other now. Before independence we had to study secretly,” said Naina, “The
old otincha used to read so well that we, y ounger women, were enchanted and anxious to learn as much as they knew.
The old otincha could definitely teach in the universities. We were taught how to stay clean, be good, and to give alms
to the poor. Now we are sharing our knowledge with everyone and teach only the Qur’an and the Sunnah”(interview,
Over the last decade, the number of the centers teaching Arabic and the foundations of the Islam has
decreased. Those individuals who want to study Islam now have to come to the classes either conducted at an
otincha’s home or at the local Islamic center twice or three times a week. Naina said that she is planning to teach
in one of the Islamic centers as well,
I do not think that I know everything but whatever I know I will share with other people. People ask me questions and
I answer what I know. Family relationships are some of those questions (interview, 06/03/01).
To summarize, otincha are female religious leaders and teachers who are well versed in the religious matters.
Otincha is not a finalized social position, as the process of becoming an otincha has a life-long duration. One
starts by learning Arabic, the Qur’an, and ceremonial prayers as early as adolescence, and continues till her last
day. In other words, an otincha is a female who reaches a sufficient level of knowledge about religio-traditional
matters and shares this knowledge with others, and also continues to perfect her knowledge infinitely. If a
woman wants to be an otincha and her parents or her family allow, then she can become an otincha at any point
of her life. Although, there is no concrete age limit which marks one as an otincha, practicing otincha are
usually those women who have free time. Thus, retired women or housewives with grown up children have a
better chance to practice their knowledge.
Becoming an otincha

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In order to understand the process of becoming an otincha, I visited one of the home-schools of otincha
It was very early in the morning. Usually it gets unbearably hot (110 F) around ten a.m. At seven a.m. the temperature
was still comfortable and I could breath in the air filled with the scent of burning leaves and coolness of the “arkiq’s”
water (the body of water on the side of the road) on the street. I met my friend and we entered somebody’s yard through
the backdoor. A young woman invited us into the house. The first room that we entered was set up with a low table and
“tushaks” (sitting mats) around it. Six middle-aged women were reading the Qur’an. The teacher, an older female with
a soft voice and tender chanting skills, explained the meaning of the “Surahs” (chapters in the Qur’an) and gave their
brief historical background (recollections from the diary 05/31/01-06/04/01).
The women around the table and the teacher were otincha. They meet several times a week as a class.
Otincha’s class level is predicated on the level of their Arabic proficiency and knowledge of Shari’ah (Islamic
Law). Younger classes, i.e. less fluent in Arabic, meet more often than older ones. On this particular morning,
the women (except myself) were about fifty or sixty-five years old. One of the women shared with me her
decision to study Arabic and to practice Islam. Her decision was stimulated by the Uzbekistan’s independence
(1991) and a religious revival that followed,
I wanted to learn Islam, obviously… because I was born Muslim. Only in the Soviet times it was prohibited. But still
people managed to read “namaz” (prayer) and fast during Ramadan.
But after independence, we gained our
freedom of choice a nd many people started practicing Islam very openly, no matter what age they were. Now we are
able to read our religious books. We couldn't do it in the Soviet times. Even during the funeral when the last “namaz”
had to be read, the Communist families couldn't do it (interview, 06/01/01).
I talked to the teacher, Aminajon, a highly respected otincha, who led the class (05/31/01). She explained
that there are several steps one has to take in order to be a practicing otincha. First, one has to study either at
home or in the madrassah reading the core writings of Islam and learning the Shari’ah (Islamic Law). Then, one
needs to be officially certified – “to take an exam in the university” (field notes 06/01/01).
Among themselves, local otincha are often classified as a “good” and “bad” otincha. The criterion for this
classification is an “appropriate” understanding and promotion of Islamic rituals and practices. Indeed, local
otincha often disagree about which local rituals and practices are allowed or prohibited in Islam. The members
of the class complained that many home-schooled otincha do not know the nuances of the Shari’ah. For
example, some of the otincha would advise people to cook food at the graveyards when they visit their dead.
Although to cook osh (lamb and rice dish) and cry at the gravesite is a folkway of showing respect to the dead,
the class’ teacher, Aminajon, remarked,
…According to the Qur’an, according to the Shariat (sic.), Islamic Law, one should not do such things. It is
prohibited. The honorable Hasan al-Basri emphasized that the true belief is inside one’s heart and soul. One needs
not to perform sacrifies and create the show of one’s faith on the outside except doing the fundamental rituals, such as
reading “namaz”. “The Duba” (a ritual feasting and crying at the graves) is not allowed in Islam. Many otincha do
not know “Shariat” (sic.) well enough. Religious books were not available for a long time. How would they know the
proper ceremonies? (interview 05/31/01).
Becoming an otincha is also associated with the change of one’s status within one’s community and one’s
family. The women, studying to be practicing otincha claimed,
Even the fact that a woman starts studying Islam changes her position within her family and within society. She
becomes more respected. In this case, the age does not matter. A woman does not have to be of a certain age to be
respected as a female religious leader. Laila remarked, “”Otincha” are all respected, young and old. In fact, during
different kinds of celebrations we are shown to the chief places [at the head of the “dastarhon” (table, celebration, food
on the table)] to sit” (interview and observations, 06/01/01, 06/14/01, & 06/18/01).

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Hence, becoming an otincha changes one’s social position: one becomes a teacher, an authority in certain
areas of everyday live and individual spiritual growth. Furthermore, becoming an otincha brings meaningful
changes in one’s position and relationships within one’s family. If a woman is studying Islam, its beliefs and
practices, or is a practicing otincha, her status within a family increases dramatically. The relationships between
she and her husband, and her and his parents, are based on less disagreement. All these parties are reported to
more willingly negotiate intra-family affairs and conflicts. One of the students-otincha said,
Certainly, men are the heads of the families and we listen to them. We discuss issues together, but usually a husband
has a right of saying the last word. After having studied Islam we became even more close to each other and respect
each other even more. In difficult times we always support each other and solve the problems together. Men are men.
They are the main guards, who keep the peace of the family. But there are many fragile places that we have to
consider together (interview, 06/11/01).
Being an otincha does not spare one from domestic chores. Cooking, washing dishes and cloths, cleaning,
looking after kids and animals, and making non (bread) are still women’s duties. These tasks need to be
accomplished before an otincha can devote her time to the religious education or private visitations. One of the
coping strategies of the otincha is to start necessary domestic chores very early in the morning and try to
accomplish them before noon. Then the rest of the afternoon can be devoted to studies and visitations. To juggle
studies with work becomes more difficult if an otincha has to work in the cotton fields. Yet, no matter how
difficult their work is, argued the otincha, “if there is a will, they still should find the time to practice their
religious beliefs and learn more about Islam” (an interview and observations, 06/01/01).
(2) What are otincha’s roles in their local community?
There is nothing essential or monolithic in the definition of an otincha. An otincha might be visiting
other peoples’ homes on demand. She is often present at life-cycle rituals. On the other hand, an otincha does
not have to perform home visitations. She may simply meet with other otincha as a gap (supportive network of
relatives or friends, or co-workers)
to discuss certain religious and personal questions, problems, and issues.
She may practice at home, devoting the majority of her free time to contemplation, meditation, family education,
praying and reading of the Holy Books.
In the following sections I will concentrate on those otincha, who in different ways participate in the lives of
their communities in the Ferghana oblast’. It is important to note that neighbors and relatives often come to the
non-practicing otincha for an advice and initiate the contact between an otincha and a local community. Thus,
the relationships between an otincha and a local community are dialogical. She need not to intrude into everyday
lives of the community’s members; they come to her and she responds to their invitation or answers their
questions and listens to their concerns at her place.
“Otincha” in the “qishlaq” are usually invited for a sad or happy occasion, to pray at home. They speak Arabic and
can read the Qur’an. They give advice of what to or not to do. They explain what is a sin and what is not in everyday
life (interview with Sumaya 06/04/01).
In the Ferghana oblast’ rayons, otincha are often asked for an advice or an opinion on different family
matters, such as the matters related to religious observance, to childbearing and rearing, and matters regarding
any other area of everyday life. Valimahon, one of the local otincha, said that during the Ramadan (the Holy
month of fasting), some women in her qishlaq complained to the otincha that they were not able to fast because
their husbands did not allow fasting. “I explained,” said Valimahon, “that if the husband doesn’t approve then
the wife shouldn't fast because it is said so in the Qur’an” (interview 06/01/01). Another otincha told me about
the question that she was asked in her qishlaq recently,
For instance… the question was if the couple splits up and if they want to get back together again after five months,
what should they do? I told them that they should read “nikoh” (religious wedding ceremony). If the husband told her

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“talaq” (“I divorce you”) three times, then they can't get together. In such case the wife should marry someone else
and then her current husband should say talaq to her a nd only then the ex-husband could remarry her. So you see, it
is very difficult to repair what has been broken. The husband needs to think twice before loosely using talaq. Allah
protects women. No one can abuse the “Shari’ah” (interview, 06/01/01).
There are usually several otincha in a qishlaq. Local people trust them and their knowledge of religious and
secular observances. Local otincha participate in the following family affairs:
They participate in life cycle ceremonies, such as burial and other rituals associated with it. They
chant the prayers appropriate on such occasions and explain the Hadith, the Qur’an, and the
Local families call on otincha in difficult situations, when members of a family need an advice or a
If there is a problem or a wish for a successful affair people invite otincha as well. Otincha read the
Hadith, Qur’an and Bismallah, and then sacrifice a chicken or a lamb for a good outcome of the
Early in the morning in the house of a new acquaintance, a rather respected otincha in Ferghana, I met about fifty
women of different ages and ethnic background. The majority of them were practicing “otincha,” others – yet-to-
become practicing “otincha.” Several men, who were either close relatives of the hostess or the neighbors, were
cooking next to the gates of the house. The gathering was” qirq” (a memorial service) which was held on the fortieth
day after the burial. The center of the ceremony was a forty-years-old female who came from the neighboring
“qishlaq.” Everyone called her “the main otincha”. She recited the Qur’an and the Hadith. She chanted from the
prayer book, and the voices of all the women present at the occasion would come together in the chorus
“Lahillahhuhillalah. Allahu Akbar. Allahu Amin”(the God is One, Allah is the Greatest). The chorus would run
through the rooms of the house as a river: rising like an unexpected tide, expanding and multiplying like ripples on
the face of the water (field notes, observations, 06/05/01).
Finally, otincha do not only posses religious knowledge; they also provide other, often professional, insights
into family matters in their respective communities. For example, Sonalia, my friend, is a local otincha, who
used to work as a gynecologist. During the meetings with other families, she gave not only religious but also
medical advice about the matters such as female fertility. Furthermore, otincha do not shun talking about socio-
economic condition in their communities, in the country, and globally. They are willing to voice out their
personal opinions on different social matters, substantiated with religious verses and stories.
(3) Where can we position otincha vis-à-vis other socio-religious institutions in the Ferghana oblast’?
Social networks are inseparable from and fundamental to the complexity of everyday reality of peoples
in Ferghana oblast’. Otincha represent a part of the wide social network within their local communities and
within the oblast’. I suggest that otincha in the area should be considered as a part of a wider social network, not
simply as a group of religious women. The standpoint of groupings and institutions does not necessarily grasp
and account for individual diversity and uniqueness among otincha. In order to gain a more adequate
understanding of the local communities in the Ferghana oblast’ , and social relations within and among them,
one needs to inquire as how the local people make “their livelihood… [deal] with their disputes, and [handle]
individual and communal crises” (Gulliver, 1971 p. 3).
Future research on otincha networks should be
centered on their everyday reality and their interactions among themselves and with the other members of local
In spite of all the socio-political and economic changes in Uzbekistan and Central Asia, there is a social
continuity within the local communities of the Ferghana oblast’. This social continuity is sustained through the
continuity of relationships and reciprocity within a family and between a family and local community of friends,
neighbors, and co-workers. Local networks of otincha play an important role in these processes. Otincha are

Page 20
migrating and mediating social elements that traverse geographical boundaries of one qishlaq or a city; they go
into other neighboring qishlaqs to either attend their gap (supportive networks) or to participate in local rituals
and celebrations. Thus, otincha are the medium of information about religious and secular news. Indeed, their
networks, particularly their gaps are the “masked media” whereby social, personal, and religious news is
discussed and generated (Buechler, 1980).
Furthermore, the complexity of the social relationships among the members of a family and local
communities and the complexity of motivations and interests behind these relationships in the context of their
inter-connectedness provide a fertile background for change and conflict. Otincha often serve both as a
mediating channel within the complexity of family relationships, and as a medium which provides a space for
negotiation of personal relationships with the Divine. They provide both family and spiritual counseling and an
Islamic perspective on intra-family relationships, reproductive health, and individuals’ internal peace.
Indeed, change and continuity of social relations among the members of local communities in the
Ferghana oblast’ are less premised on the structural position of individual and more on individual choice and
human agency. By saying this, I mean that the respect that otincha are given in their communities does not rest
on their social title – otincha - teacher. The social respect and power are earned through the hard work of
studying and participating in the lives of many families and individuals in their local communities.
Furthermore, a decision to be an otincha is, in my opinion, a manifestation of creative human agency more than
individual structural predicament, when one is born in the religious family, or in the family of mullah or otincha
(or married to a mullah). I consider the latter to be enabling, not over-determining elements.
Recognizing the leading role of an individual as an active agent in the process of (re)construction and
transformation of social relations and situation, the analysis does not need to result in the isolation of individual
from the community and the social relations within it, i.e., the interactions among the members of a network.
The networks of otincha do not exist in a social vacuum. Otincha’ relationships with one another, and with their
families, both affect and are affected by their relationships with members of their local communities and
individuals outside of these communities, and vice versa (Gulliver, 1971 p. 21). Additionally, social relations
around, beyond, and beneath an individual – such as the socio-political and economic changes in the country -
affect an individual’s decision-making process and are no less important for theoretical consideration in the
further anthropological research of otincha.
Mullah (doml’ya) and Imam
Doml’ya (mullahs and/or Imams) are those individuals, who occupy religious-administrative positions in
their local communities predicated on a semi-annual or annual electoral office. Mullahs and Imams provide an
assistance and religious expertise in the masjids’ (mosques’) daily rituals (namaz). They also read the main
Hudba (a weekly message) during the Jummah (Friday) prayer and actively participate in the everyday lives of
their communities’ members.
The Ferghana oblastnoi Imam has to schedule his day around prayer-times at the “masjid” (mosque) and communal
matters. The day when I came to visit him, he had just returned from a “sumak” (the ceremony of male circumcision. As
soon as he came back to the masjid he had to reconvene with other believers for an afternoon “namaz” (prayer). Our
interview was scheduled right after the prayer, and a burial service of a local elder was scheduled right after the
interview (field notes, 06/14/01).
There are also doml’ya, who are recognized as male religious leaders contextually, i.e., by the local peoples,
if not necessarily administratively, i.e., by the local government. These are the individuals who are respected by
a wide range of local people for their knowledge about and practice of Islam. These male religious leaders do
not have any formal responsibilities in the masjid. They do, however, perform and lead prayers and religious
rituals within the community’s households, have students of Arabic and Shari’ah, go to the life-cycle
ceremonies, and perform healing rituals and animal sacrifices.

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Doml’ay, for example, have the power and authority to perform nikoh (an Islamic wedding ceremony),
blessings and healing rituals. Indeed, communal events, such as weddings, burials, name-giving ceremonies,
religious and secular festivals and celebrations are always attended by the local doml’ya. In case of burial
service, a local doml’ya and the male parts of the household and of the local community accompany the body of
the deceased to the graveyard. In this sense, doml’ya, like otincha, also constitute a network not an institution.
These male religious leaders serve as the repositories of religious and traditional knowledge. After the
Revolution of 1917, they taught their students discreetly, in order to pass this cultural knowledge from
generation to generation. Their students included both males and females. Local doml’ya are still one of the
main sources of advices on both religious and everyday matters, reproductive health included, in their respective
Thus, the research showed that both the otincha, and the doml’ya often advise on different family matters and
participate in the life-cycle rituals observed by the local communities in the Ferghana oblast’. These two
networks keep a certain level of correspondence. The local doml’ya respect otincha and value their opinions:
otincha have a great respect for doml’ya as well. One of the local otincha reported that a local doml’ya used to
come to her house to consult with her on certain religious and family matters.
These religious networks/institutions – otincha, doml’ya and the office of the Imam – have access to almost
every household in the rayons of the Ferghana oblast’. Their opinions, often interpretations of the Shari’ah (the
Divine Law instituted by the Allah), are widely respected by the local public and. Hence, I argue, these Islamic
networks/institutions are extremely important in considering a productive implementation of the health reform
in the area because they have distinct but complementary areas of expertise and function. Otincha have access to
the female populations in the area, whereas doml’ya have access to the male counter-parts.
Individuals who constitute the networks of otincha and doml’ya and the institution of the Imam are
sufficiently connected to the families in the Ferghana oblast’ to serve as entry points for health promotion and
education in Islamic terms. By Islamic terms I mean,
Some of the theoretical recommendations elaborated by the Hanafi Madh’hab (one of the four
schools of the Islamic Law and theology in the Sunni Islam) in regard to family planning. For
example, the practice of al-azl (coitus interruptus) can contextually be substituted by any method of
contraception except late abortion
and total sterilization.
In fact, use of any vaginal
contraceptive cream seems to be closer to the methods used by women locally than the oral
hormonal contraceptives promoted by the ZdravPlus Project. By local methods I mean the practices,
which include injection of either oil or some other acidic liquids into the vagina.
The Hanafi Madh’hab’s emphasis on the financial and moral responsibilities of the parents to their
children. This ideological emphasis is also contextually in place in terms of practices of and beliefs
in financial and moral support of the offspring in spite of the offspring’s age by the parents.
In regard to family planning, there are other recommendations by the Hanafi Madh’hab and the injunctions
in the Shari’ah which would be favorably received by the predominantly Muslim population of the area, if
promoted by these two religious networks/institutions (see MISISI 1992).
Finally, I contend that any constructive social change should be articulated and implemented on the terms of
the communities that will undergo such change. Thus, to involve religious leaders through the provision of the
family planning material either used in other Muslim contexts or articulated by the ulama (religious thinkers) of
the Hanafi Madh’hab (school) will make a change in the realm of reproductive health more legitimate and
I reviewed the material provided by ZdravPlus, Abt Associates Inc., Tashkent’s office (see the “existing
materials” section of the bibliography). There are other materials about reproductive health which are available
from the Population Council in the Middle East and other countries with a predominantly Muslim population
(see “Internet (web)” section in the bibliography). The manuals compiled from these and other sources, I

Page 22
suggest, should be distributed, either in a form of hard copies or oral presentations, by the local NGOs to the
individuals who constitute these two religious networks/institutions - otincha and doml’ya. The latter will
redistribute this information to the local families.
In the following section I offer a couple of options regarding an Islamic approach to reproductive health. I
also point out their limitations.
Options and limitations
Option one: The ZdravPlus Project (Abt. Associates Inc.) provides the local non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) in the Ferghana oblast’, such as Ishonchi (Trust), with manuals articulating and
advocating an Islamic approach to reproductive health. The material in the manuals can be inferred and
complied from the Internet and used in the other Muslim communities printed resources. The websites’
addresses and examples of the literature are provided in the bibliography below. Local NGOs in their turn will
lecture to and conduct seminars with the local otincha and doml’ya, either in the facilities provided by the Abt.
Associates Inc. or in the field, i.e., by taking trips into the rayons. I suggest having a trial period for the manual
and the lectures. The sample for this “experiment” may include Ferghana’s otincha and doml’ya.
Both local NGOs and Abt. Associates Inc. are aware of the sensitivity of such health promotion. The
implementing side should first seek the support, approval and participations of the obliostnoi Imam and his
office. At a later stage all local religious leaders should be invited to the lectures.
Limitations: Local NGOs could possibly experience resistance from local religious leaders for taking an
initiative of promoting an Islamic approach to reproductive health. More specifically, local religious leaders may
question the mandate and Islamic knowledge of the individuals who will conduct the lectures or seminars.
Furthermore, the contemporary socio-political condition in the country may influence individuals’ desire to
attend or to conduct seminars and lectures about religious matters. Therefore, the social component of the
lectures and seminars may have to be given more priority than their religious component, which could
potentially undermine the effort. The way around this problem might be to involve the government (local and
national) into the educational process, possible through getting a mandate to conduct the seminars.
Finally, the younger population of the Ferghana oblast’ (14-22 years old) is not overwhelmingly
religious, therefore, the religious leaders may not have immediate access to these individuals. Otincha and
doml’ya, however, will have access to the generation which constitutes these youngsters’ parents and
grandparents. Considering the importance contextually given to the concept of the family, interactions between
the parents and children may serve as a secondary channel of the health promotion.
Option two: The manual on an Islamic approach to reproductive health can be developed as a
cooperative effort between local Islamic networks/institutions, the Abt. Associates Inc. office in Ferghana, and
local NGOs, such as Ishonchi (Trust), whereby the major input into the articulation of an Islamic approach on
reproductive health would come from the local religious leaders and members of the local NGOs. More
specifically, the focus group, which will consist of both representatives of the local religious and secular
community and facilitators from the Abt’s office, will work out the basic fundamental principles of an Islamic
approach. These principles will serve as the foundation of the manual, which will be distributed in the local
mosques, health facilities, and discussed during the meetings of otincha and doml’ya. Those individuals who
undergo this educational stage of the project will apply the principles either in preaching, teaching, or medical
practice. The main strength of this option rests in the power and initiative which comes contextually from the
local individuals and is not superimposed by the professional institutions. Furthermore, the manual will be
vested with the weight and power that comes from the religious leaders who locally represent the
epistemological authority on Islam.
Limitations: The process so construed may be prone to endless disagreement about the finest points of
Islamic Law, which reflects the disagreement among the four schools of the Islamic thought. Although arguably

Page 23
the majority of Muslim population residing in the territory of the Ferghana oblast’, Uzbekistan, professes the
teachings of the Hanafi Madh’hab (school), local clerics articulate and interpret the Shari’ah often in divergent
ways. Furthermore, considering the variation of gender roles in the region, there is still a danger that the “male-
clerical” presentation of an Islamic perspective on reproductive health will dominate over any other perspective.
Even if the female counter-parts of the focus group is able to voice out their opinions and concerns, they may
not be heard (cf. Ahmed 1992). There are resources available, however, which address the problematics of
gender roles in Islamic societies and advocate an Islamic feminist perspective on this issue (e.g. Wadud 1992).
Hence, the preparation and implementation of an Islamic approach to reproductive health is a difficult
task. All sides of the process need to be considered before the project can be prepared and implemented through
dialogical relationships among the actors involved in it. Additional research through doing an indepth study of
the interconnectedness of the local communities and religious networks and institutions, is highly desirable in
this regard. The length of my pilot-study did not allow collecting sufficient data on the institutions of the Imam
and mullah; nor did it allow considering indepth the medical discourse about reproductive health in the region
(for rapid assessment methods see Gittelsohn 1998). Yet, the data collected during the study and represented in
the report gives, an understanding and sufficient introduction to the religious environment in the Ferghana
oblast’ and its rayons, some understanding of and possible options for implementation of an Islamic approach
to reproductive health.
Allah – [God, Lord]
Allahu Akbar – [Allah is the Greatest]
Assalmu [salamu] Alaikum – [May peace be upon you]
Ayah – [Individual units (verses) of the Book of God]
Eid – [Festival]
Hadith (pl. ahaadith) – [a saying narrated from the Prophet (sallallaahu `alaihi wa sallam) (whether authentic or not),
regarding his words, actions, or attributes]
Hajj – [Major Pilgrimage to Mecca]
Hajji – [One that accomplished this major pilgrimage]
Hijab – [Any kind of veil, head cover: niqab – facial veil, khimar – partial facial covering]
Imam – [Religious leader]
Islam – [Submission to the will of Allah]
Jummah or Jum’ah – [Friday prayer]
Madhhab – ["school of thought", the sum total of the legal rulings of the founder of that Madhhab, as well as those of his
students and all scholars who adhered to his approach]
Masjid – [Prayer House, mosque]
Muslim – [(also spelled Moslem) is based on the same Arabic root as Islam (s-l-m) and means one who submits to God,
that is, a believer in Islam]
Namaz (Uzb.) – [prayer]
Shari`ah – [The Divine code of Law, or the Islamic Law]
Sheikh – [Spiritual teacher, in the report the keeper of the sacred place]
Sunnah - ["Example, Practice"; the way of life of the Prophet (sallallaahu `alaihi wa sallam), consisting of his words,
actions and silent approvals. The Sunnah is contained in the various authentic ahaadeeth]
Sunnah - [an action of the Prophet (sallallaahu `alaihi wa sallam)]
Surah - [a chapter of the Qur'an.]

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This report was made possible in part through support provided by the ZdravPlus project, implemented by Abt
Associates, Inc. with funding from the Office of Health and Population, U.S. Agency for International
Development in Central Asia (USAID/CAR), under the terms of Contract No. 115-C-00-00-00011-00. Global
Affairs Institute Goekjian Summer Research Stipend, at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs,
Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY) provided travel funds to and from Ferghana Valley. The report is based in
the pilot-study in the Ferghana oblast’ (Uzbekistan), May-June, 2001. The opinions expressed herein are those
of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the co-sponsors.
I am grateful for the help and expertise of several individuals and organizations, immediately to the staff of the
Ferghana’s Abt’s office (ZdravPlus project by Abt. Associates Inc. and other organizations), local otinchas
(female religious teachers and leaders), and mullahs (male religious teachers), the staff of the local clinics, and
locally residing Peace Corps volunteers.
One of the singular form of the word is otincha and the plural is otinchalar. For the purposes of this report I
use otinchas as to denote a plural form. .
Arguably, the Imams are male official leaders and mullahs are lay religious leaders, although contextually
population of qishlaqs (villages), rayons’ centers (the administrative centers of the townships) and cities use
these religious titles in their everyday discourse (conversations) interchangeably. Furthermore, both the Imams
and mullahs are often structural administrative positions that are to be filled and approved by a local mahallah
committee (neighborhood’s or local community’s committee) and hyakymyat (local governmental apparatus).
However, some domyl’a are lay home-schooled religious leaders who are involved in the religious life on the
community on a negotiated with local population accord, i.e., respected by a local population as knowledgeable
on the matters of the Qur’an and Shari’ah and righteous individuals.
By traditional, I mean familiar and comfortable. It is knowledge and practices that have been passed and
preserved from generation to generation and that differentiate people from one geographic, economic and socio-
cultural area from another. The borders of such areas are fluid. This definition has been inferred from interviews
and local individuals’ assessment and understanding of the term.
In the interests of confidentiality, the names of all my consultants have been changed in the report.
Hyakymyat is a governmental apparatus.
Family is a socio-cultural institution which regulates sexual access between males and females, finds
satisfactory ways of organizing labor between males and females, assigns responsibility for child care, provides
a clear framework for organizing an individual rights and responsibilities and provides for the transfer of
property and social position between generations (Nanada & Warms, 1998: 158).
A definition of a household differs from the definition a family: “Although domestic groups most often
contain related people, nonkin may also be a part of a domestic group. In addition, members of a family may be
spread out over several households. The composition of a household is affected by the cultural rules about where
a newly married couple will live” (Nanda & Warms, 1998: 171).
Socio-cultural anthropology identifies four major patterns of postmarital residence: neolocal, patrilocal,
matrilocal and avunculocal.
Anthropological theory identifies three basic family types - nuclear, extended and joint – and differentiates
within these as well.
For further discussion see Crosbie (1986, pp. 30-58), Barth (1981), and Salisbury (1966, pp. 113-128).
These women represented different professions, socio-economic classes, age groups, and nationalities. Out of
twelve females, five decided to have abortion themselves and one followed her husband’s request (group
interview, local clinic, 06/04/01).
There are women in the Ferghana oblast’ who choose temporary or terminal sterilization, but their number is
not available. Although male sterilization is rarely practiced; it is possible.
For further anthropological treatment of decision-making models see Linda Garro (1998) and Jorge Rocha

Page 25
“Women’s consultations” are administrative units that provide health assistance only to women regarding
such issues as gynecological health, pregnancy, and childrearing.
The elders in the family usually perform the ritual of shaving an infant’s hair. They are thought to assure the
infant’s long life.
In contemporary medical discourse “small uterus,” is one explanation of female infertility. Male infertility is
hardly addressed. Some women, who are diagnosed with having a small (“child’s”) uterus, choose to go to local
Allah is an immediate source of appeal. Yet, there are other saints who are addressed on particular occasions.
Doml’ya constitute local networks as well.
Hadiths are sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and the stories about the life of the Prophet and his
The government prohibits Qur’anic studies and Arabic classes held in the private homes.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. It is during this month that Muslims observe the Fast of
Ramadan, when for the entire month, Muslims fast during the daylight hours and in the evening eat small meals
and visit with friends and family. It is a time of worship and contemplation. A time to strengthen family and
community ties.
Gap is a network that can consist of an individual’s friends, co-workers, or relatives. One individual can
attend and participate in several gaps simultaneously. One of my consultants, Amir, defined gap as a meeting of
several individuals who share similar interests, hobbies, world-views, life experiences, and spirituality, and
where their economic status does not really matter. These individuals provide social and financial support to
each other as well as financial rotating contributions (personal communications, 06/05/01). For an
anthropological treatment of gaps in the rural Uzbekistan, see Kandiyoti (1998).
For further discussion, see Barnes 1972 and Gulliver 1971.
There is a diversity of opinions on abortion in Islam. There are scholars who oppose all abortions. At the
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Last edited: 23 September 2005

Abstract  Summary of the Report  Geographic Area of the Pilot Study  Context of Interactions  Methodologty  Family Structures and Decision Making  [Family Structure    Marriage      Residence   Family types  Families' MetamorphsesSexuality, Reproductive Behavior and Decision Making  [Predominant medical methods of contraception  Folk contraceptive practices Religious practices  [Otincha  Mullah and Imam Recommendations   Options  Glossary of Arabic terms   Notes   Bibliography  Internet Resources  Existing Material