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Ethnicity, Language, & Religion of Uzbekistan

Ethnicity

Nearly 80% of Uzbekistan's population is ethnically Uzbek, which is a Turkic ethnicity that originated in the area of Central Asia. Uzbeks are most closely related to the other Turkic people of Central Asia, including the Kazakhs, Kyrgyzs, and Turkmen. There are small (less than 5% each) ethnic minorities in the country including Russians, Tajiks, and Kazakhs. The Russians primarily arrived during the Soviet era, while the Tajiks and Kazakhs often live near the borders with those countries as the Soviets created odd borders to intentionally divide ethnic groups in Central Asia.

Language

Uzbek is the only official language of Uzbekistan as it is the native language of most ethnic Uzbeks. Uzbek is a Turkic language, which can be written in either the Latin or Cyrillic script. Uzbek has no major languages that are closely related, although numerous less popular languages are similar. More distantly, Kazakh, Turkish, Turkmen, Kyrgyz, Azerbaijani, and others related.

Most ethnic minorities speak a different language natively; among the smaller groups this is often times a closely related Turkish language, but the largest minority in the country are the native Russian speaker. Due to their Soviet past, it is often times Russian, not Uzbek that is the language of communication between ethnic groups and nearly everyone in the country has at least a basic understanding of Russian. English, French, and other major world languages are less commonly learned in Uzbekistan, although they are growing in popularity.

Religion

Nearly 90% of Uzbekistan's population is Muslim, primarily Sunni Muslim. The ethnic Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Kazakhs tend to practice Islam. Among the last 10% most are Russian Orthodox and most of the ethnic Russian population falls into this category.

Islam (the name of the religion, whose followers are called Muslims) is a monotheistic religion, whose holy book is called the Qur'an. The Qur'an is believed to be the word of God spoken through the prophet Muhammad from 609-632 CE (Common Era is preferred over AD (Anno Domini or "year of the Lord") since the Islamic world doesn't believe Jesus was the messiah). Islam believes Muhammad was the last prophet sent to earth by God, the last in a long line of prophets, which includes Moses, Abraham, and Jesus among others.

Muslims follow five pillars of their faith: testimony, prayer, alms-giving, fasting, and pilgrimage. These pillars, and other tenants of their faith, can give great structure to their lives as some foods, like pork, are forbidden and every Muslim is expected to pray five times a day. However, the level of participation in each of these pillars and to what degree Islam influences an individual's life varies from person to person and community to community. Generally speaking, Uzbekistan is fairly liberal in how they practice Islam.

Most Muslims are Sunni, which is the branch of Islam that closely follows the teachings of Muhammad and accepts Abu Bakr as the first Caliph (a ruler of an Islamic community); the Sunni Muslims are sometimes referred to Orthodox. Shia Muslims believe only God can chose who heads the Islamic community and believed it was Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law who was first chosen; Ali became the first Imam (according to Shia Muslims, this term only refers to the leaders of the faith, to Sunni Muslims Imam is often times used in reference to the prayer leader in mosques).

This page was last updated: May, 2014