What happened?

Mixed martial arts athlete Rafael Fiziev announced on his Instagram page that he would no longer compete under the flag of Kyrgyzstan.

“That’s it, I’m done. Nothing ties me to Kyrgyzstan anymore. My family and I are considering moving. I will no longer compete for Kyrgyzstan,” Fiziev wrote.

According to Fiziev, his decision was motivated by harassment by the muftiate, an organization that oversees Kyrgyzstan’s Islamic clergy. The athlete added that his family had been harassed as well.

“My family and I have been subjected to harassment by the muftiate and other well-known people in Kyrgyzstan. Because of this unjustified harassment and lying videos, my family and I receive angry messages, hundreds of them,” said the athlete.

How did the harassment start?

Fiziev has not offered an in-depth explanation of how or why the harassment began. However, a video previously emerged on the internet in which the former chief mufti of Kyrgyzstan, Maksatbek Toktomushev, criticizes a clip from Fiziev’s Instagram showing the athlete’s visit to the mosque Imam Ali in the city En-Najaf, Iraq.

“There are no words to describe this … What a great spirit is here, what great energy. […] I advise everyone to come here and experience this incredible feeling,” wrote Fiziev.

The Iraqi mosque in Fiziev’s video was built by Shiite Muslims. As Toktomushev explained, Muslims in Central Asia generally adhere to Sunni Islam.

“This athlete is the pride of Kyrgyzstan. In my opinion, he may simply express his feelings, but he should not become confused. Sport is one matter, ideology another, faith a third,” said Toktomushev.

He added that it is “incorrect to urge such a thing.” The ex-mufti believes that it could lead to disagreements between faiths.

“I hope that our athlete will understand everything correctly and will stop [encouraging people to visit the mosque.] He needs to stop.”

In his response, Fiziev said he had never claimed any religious authority and had only documented his life on Instagram.

What did the muftis say?

In a statement, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan (SAMK) told Kloop that Fiziev’s words had “no relation to the muftiate.”

“We are surprised by his statement. The muftiate does not engage in threats, but rather education, outreach, and explanation. Many families come to us and we explain to them the values and basics of Islam. We help keep families together. The muftiate has no relationship with Fiziev and his words should not be presumed to reference us.”

What comes next?

Rafael Fiziev is famous in Kyrgyzstan as a mixed martial artist who competes in the American UFC in the lightweight class.  Fiziev made his UFC debut in 2019. Fiziev emerged victorious from his second fight, then won another three bouts in July, August, and November 2020.

On August 7, 2021, Fiziev defeated American Bobby Green at the tournament UFC 265 in Houston, Texas (USA). This was Fiziev’s fourth victory in a row. Fiziev was recently ranked at number 14 among UFC lightweight fighters, entering the top 15 for the first time. Before his UFC debut, Fiziev competed professionally for South Korea’s ROAD FC.

Translated by Hallie Sala from Respond Crisis Translation.