DURMEN VILLAGE, Uzbekistan -- Just three days before a major Islamic holiday, a lamb was born with white patterns on its black fleece resembling the Arabic words for Allah on one side and Mohammed on the other.
The phenomenon has caused a sensation among ordinary people in this former Soviet state where most people are Muslims -- and been an annoyance to authorities in the staunchly secular government.
Mainstream religious organizations are pursuing a campaign to characterize the lamb as nothing special. But thousands have flocked to this village in the eastern Fergana Valley to see what they believe is a lamb of God sent to strengthen Muslims' faith.
Religion is an extremely sensitive matter in this Central Asian country, where the government has been cracking down on Islamic militants for several years. Officials worry the lamb may boost the ranks of opposition sympathizers.
Adding a political angle, the lamb belongs to a family that had a young male relative beaten to death by security officers last November after he was detained for alleged links to a banned religious group.
The lamb is owned by Khudoyberdy Odylov, 36, whose first name means "given by God" and family name means "just." He says the lamb is maybe God's answer to his prayers for justice for his dead nephew, Alimohammad Mamadaliyev, and consolation for his family and other suffering people.
"This is how God shows his mercy," Odylov says.
In early May, three security officers went on trial charged with murdering his nephew.