Both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have overwhelming Muslim majorities - around 90% of the population in each country. Just like Azerbaijan, however, they are no more "Muslim countries" than American is a "Christian country". We visited the most holy shrines, mosques and mausoleums in both countries, and most were empty apart from a couple of pilgrams sitting outside with palms upraised or a few groups of women walking around. Certainly there were no scenes of lines of Muslims praying on prayer carpets, and in the few places where a call to prayer was sounded it was ignored by every person in sight.
Most of the strictures of Islam are ignored with a bit of slight-of-hand. In Turkmenistan it is illegal to eat camels or horses (camels because they were holy under Zoroasterism and horses because the Turkmen idolise their Akhal-Teke horses). Pig is okay though, and widely eaten, although it is polite to refer to it as "white lamb" to Muslims so they can at least pretend to be obeying the injuction against pork. In Uzbekistan our guide described his religion by saying "my family are Muslim Tartars, but it isn't a big part of our life. We've never read the Koran and don't go and pray, but if there is a birth or death we ask an Imam to come out and give an Islamic ceremony". Sounds pretty much like Catholics in Western Europe.
I wish the Islamophobes would visit countries like Albania, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan before assuming that all Muslims are like the Taliban. It is just like assuming all Christians are like the LRA. It is only when the religious really get a chance to turn the youth into radicals that you get nutjobs like the Taliban or LRA. Otherwise, once religion is pushed out to be merely an option, most people absorb a few harmful habits but manage to shrug off the most insane aspects - whether of Christianity, Judiasm or Islam. Interestingly, the ex-Communist countries seem to have done particularly well in this regard, the generation of a secular state seems to have broken the default acceptance of religion, so people feel free to pick up as much or as little religion now as they want. It would be very difficult to argue that America did the right thing in promoting an Islamic uprising in Afghanistan to force the USSR out. An independent Afghanistan that had gone through the Soviet religious circuitbreaker would almost certainly be a much saner place than it is today.
Asghabat, Turkmenistan. The cult of Turkmenbashi tried to coopt Islam. The central mosque is covered in scripture from both the Koran and the Ruhnama, painting the two books as equals. Walking inside it was empty apart from guards and sweepers, and our guide saw nothing wrong with standing in the centre and proclaiming in a loud voice that echoed throughout the building "Turkmenistan isn't an Islamic Republic, we don't really care about that type of thing".
Anau, Turkmenistan. The social agreement between men and women is one of the major drivers of pilgrimages. Like many conservative societies, women are expected to stay home and look after men their whole lives. For many, the only socially acceptible escape is for religious purposes, so typically women form a friendship group and go on pilgrimage together to a couple of different sites, which can take up to two weeks to visit all the sites in Turkmenistan. From what we saw, very little praying goes on, with large gaggles of women and children sitting under a nearby tree, cooking, eating and laughing. The holiday aspect is no secret, but the men are party to the deal, taking the chance to have "men's nights out" while the women are gone.
Hayden quite likes mosques. Unlike Christian churches, with the hard stone floors, mosques give him all this lovely carpet to crawl around. He also delights in the acoustics, finding a spot with the best echoes and then loudly grunting. Sure, he manages to break nearly all the rules on this list, but everyone else ignores them too.
Registan Madrassa, Tashkent. The founder of this madrassa saw no problem with picturing animals on the main portal, usually a big no-no in Islam. The Nodir Divanbegi madrassa in Bukhara even more strikingly pictured animals that were either pigs or dogs on their main portal, showing a dedication to art above the Islamic injunction of "unclean" animals.