Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 29 Issue 9
Author: Silvia Boltuc
Islam is the largest religion practised in Kazakhstan, with estimates of about 70-72% of the country’s population being Muslim. Ethnic Kazakhs are predominantly Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school, but there are also small numbers of Shias and Ahmadi Muslims.
The presence of Islam in Kazakhstan dates back to the 10th-century Karakhanids, a fiefdom that ruled Central Asia from the 10th to the 13th century. During the Karakhanid dynasty, Islam acquired the status of the state religion.
Since Kazakhstan became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Islam evolved into an influential social force. Over the years, the number of Muslim communities has grown significantly. The culture of Islam in Kazakhstan is one of tolerance and understatement. The presence and importance of religion are immediately apparent to visitors but not overwhelming.
SpecialEurasia Managing Director Silvia Boltuc, during her official visit to Kazakhstan during the parliamentary elections, met in Astana the Chairman of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan (Muftiat), Supreme Mufti Nauryzbai kazhy Taganuly, to discuss the role of Islam in the country and the relations between the Kazakh Muslim umma (community) and other Muslim countries.
In which way are the Government and the Spiritual Administrator of the Muslims of Kazakhstan cooperating to guarantee freedom of religion and simultaneously avoid the spread of extremism and radicalization?
“Good afternoon. To fully answer your question, I must say that Kazakhstan, as a sovereign state, has extensive experience in working on state policy in the religious sphere. There are already many laws and regulations that regulate the activities of religious associations and communities in our country.
You probably know that people of different religions and conventions live in Kazakhstan, and here it should be noted that everyone lives in peace and harmony while maintaining good relations and common traditional values.
Over the years of independence, the Republic of Kazakhstan has been established as a sovereign state recognised by the world community, having a unique experience in successfully promoting interreligious and interfaith dialogue and harmony.
The President of our country always says that a balanced state policy in the field of religion aims to maintain good and friendly relations between representatives of all religions in our country.
The Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan is taking concrete measures to preserve stability in the religious sphere, strengthen interfaith harmony and tolerance in society, and form the population’s immunity to the ideology of religious extremism and radicalism in any form and manifestations. This work gives us the result that we see now – a stable society and peace among the believers of our country.
Also, we can say about the approval of the concept of state policy in the religious sphere of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which is a system of official views on improving state-confessional and interfaith relations, strengthening the secular foundations of the state and preventing the use of religion for destructive purposes. The legal basis of this concept is the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the laws of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On religious activities and religious associations”, “On non-profit organizations”, “On countering extremism”, and other regulatory legal acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan, international treaties ratified by the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Here we see that state policy, guided by the logic of a new stage of state-building in Kazakhstan, based on the Kazakhstan model of interfaith peace and harmony recognised by the world, is the basis for further development of state policy in the religious sphere, improvement of the system of normative legal acts, socio-economic, political and managerial measures to regulate the religious sphere in the country.
Traditionally, the most numerous among them are Hanafi Madhhab Islam and Orthodox Christianity. On the territory of our country, where representatives of various ethnic groups and confessions have peacefully coexisted and culturally enriched each other for many centuries, the necessary political, legal and socio-economic conditions for the development of culture, religion and traditional spiritual values of the Kazakh people have been created for the first time.
In accordance with the country’s Constitution, the Soviet model of state-confessional relations was formed on the principles of equality of all citizens before the law and respect for everyone’s personal beliefs, regardless of language and attitude toward religion. According to generally accepted international norms, the State has the right to regulate religious organisations’ activities to ensure citizens’ rights and protect public safety.
There is a Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan, “On Religious Activities and religious associations”, aimed at implementing the right of everyone to freedom of conscience provided for by international law and the Constitution of the country, which is the legal basis for the implementation of state policy and protection of national interests in the religious sphere. Within the framework of the current legislation, the activities of religious associations have been regulated, and the procedure for carrying out missionary activities, conducting religious events, religious studies expertise, construction of religious buildings, and distribution of religious literature has been determined.
Implementing the state policy in the religious sphere allowed us to solve the priority tasks of the development of secular Kazakhstan and ensure a secure future for the country, in which representatives of various faiths and ethnic groups live in peace and harmony.
Our joint and timely work will contribute to the further implementation of the basic values and principles of the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which in turn gives security, peace and stability in our country in the field of religion and interreligious and interfaith dialogue and harmony.
As for preventing terrorism and extremism, every country always cares about the well-being of its people. If a country is exposed to various religious or otherwise threats, the state can prevent it. We (Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan) also always warn our people against various currents, explaining traditional Islam, and, as far as possible, express our beliefs in this direction. If there are people deceived by incorrect information, we contribute to their protection from various currents by holding meetings and explanatory work with them.”.
Since Kazakhstan was the first CIS country to pass legislation about Islamic finance, do you believe this decision has helped the country attract interest and economic support from the Arab – Muslim world, especially the GCC countries?
“We know that the GCC includes Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia, and we have very good relations with these countries both in the field of international relations and in Islamic economic and financial issues.
Our Republic has stable and friendly relations with all the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf. It intends to develop further trade, economic, investment, cultural and humanitarian cooperation with this region. Kazakhstan has granted a visa-free regime for citizens of all GCC member states and opened direct flights with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait. The Gulf countries are the largest investor in the Kazakh economy.
It should be noted that the GCC member States are also interested in establishing a multilateral format of cooperation with the Central Asian region and are ready to hold the first ministerial meeting of the CA-GCC dialogue platform in the near future.
I think it is necessary to continue joint efforts to develop and strengthen friendly relations between Kazakhstan and the GCC countries.”.
Shortly, the Muslim umms will celebrate the month of Ramadan. Could you tell us more about this celebration in Kazakhstan?
“There is very little time left before the arrival of the holy month of Ramadan. Every believer is looking forward to this blessed time for Muslims. After all, it is at this time that an interesting time begins for believers, when, by performing their sincere worship, one can get even closer to the mercy of Allah Almighty and the doors of paradise.
Ramadan is the holy month of Muslims. In this month, a person usually makes some conclusion about how he spent the whole year, what he did and what else needs to be done to make his life happier and God-fearing, to set new goals for himself to achieve them. It is the month of Ramadan that becomes a great helper for him because, in this month, a person departs from the hustle and bustle of the usual life of this world and spends his time more in the worship of Allah Almighty.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. This month is the most important and honourable for Muslims. The word “Ramadan” in translation from Arabic gives a lot of meaning. If you give a direct meaning of this word, then it will turn out as “hot” or “scorching heat”, if translated with a religious connotation, then it comes from the word “Ramda”, and from the expression “Ramida as-saim”, when a fasting person feels thirsty in the throat and heat, when a person endures the difficulties of fasting.
The Muftiate of Kazakhstan made a joint decision after consultation with the muftis of Central Asian countries, scientists responsible for the fatwa sphere, as well as considering the results of scientific research. With the permission of Allah Almighty, this year, the Holy month of Ramadan will begin on March 23. And the night from April 17 to 18 is the sacred night of Predestination (Frame). April 21 is the holiday of Oraza Ait.
In this month, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), The angel Jibril conveyed the first divine revelation. And this significant event happened when Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) He retired to prayer in the cave “Hira” near Mecca. The revelations he received on that day became the basis of the Holy Quran.
There is a hadith brought by Imam at-Tabarani, where the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “The month of Ramadan – a blessed month has come to you. At this time, the Almighty turns to you, sending down His special mercy on you, forgives your sins, accepts your prayers, looking at your zeal in good deeds, praising you before the angels. So, show your piety before Allah, because the most unhappy person at this time is the one who will be rejected from the mercy of Allah Almighty.”
Anyone who believes in Allah Almighty and will try to behave righteously and God-fearing can hope that he will be happy and will fall into His mercy. Muslims should not forget that Allah Almighty has given us the opportunity to acquire benefits and receive rewards for fasting in the Holy month of Ramadan, where it is said that a person for his fast can get into the forgiveness of his Lord and find his mercy. As the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) himself said the following: “Whoever fasted in Ramadan with faith and hope for reward, the sins committed earlier will be forgiven.” This hadith is quoted by Imam al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim. May we all be honored with the contentment of Allah Almighty and the gratitude of people in the holy month. May the Almighty grant us all strength and spiritual unity on this path.
Since in Kazakhstan more than 70% of the country’s inhabitants are Muslims, the people are very much waiting and preparing well for the holiday. Since childhood, we have watched the preparations of our grandparents. Everything is prepared in advance, a good, delicious table is specially prepared for the celebration. They celebrate the days of “auyz ashar” (iftar), and they invite you to visit “auyz ashar”. That is, the month of Ramadan can be called a 30-day holiday. People make gifts to each other, good deeds. Help low-income families. During the month, people do a lot of good deeds, taking care of each other. This is felt in our society. Since the month of Ramadan has come, during the month, people spend this month in incredible joy (thank God).
Plus, of course, the peculiarity of this month is that it is a School of spiritual education. In Islam, not only abstinence from eating and drinking is mandatory. Of course, we abstain from food and water from dawn to dusk, but a person spiritually educates himself in this month, i.e., protects himself from any sins. He does not scold anyone from the outside, does not lie, does not do any bad things, he protects himself from all this. This month, he gets up in the morning, with the intention of eating and drinking “sare – pre-morning meal during Eid”, and then spends the whole day driving away various troubles from himself, in the evening he makes “auyz ashar”, and spends the night in prayers.
The Prophet’s hadith says that whoever fasts in the month of Ramadan with the sincere benevolence of faith, everything is forgiven in the past. The one who spends the nights worshipping, everything is forgiven in the past. Therefore, our people, who adhere to the Muslim religion, try in every possible way to follow these prophetic hadiths and fulfil them as best they can. So, of course, this month is sacred for our country. The month of fasting is the month of mercy. If someone is offended, he apologizes, in most places he gives “auyz ashar”. Even those who did not have time for the time of “auyz ashar” have been invited to visit more and more in recent years. Ramadan is a month in which everyone receives incredible spiritual nourishment, and spiritual energy. Our people hope that after a month of spiritual nourishment with the same energy, good will be formed next year in Ramadan.”.
Are there any faculties and academic/theological programs in Kazakhstan aimed at teaching Islam and preventing the spread of false doctrines and ideologies?
“Yes, we can say here, firstly, about the Egyptian University of Islamic Culture “Nur-Mubarak” – the only higher Islamic educational institution in Kazakhstan, with a three-stage education system. It is located in the city of Almaty. The University is licensed by the Ministry of Education and Science and has passed the state certification. This university works under the authority of the Spiritual Administration of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
After the university’s opening, the “Islamic studies” profession was included in the state classifier. Students of the university had the opportunity to study in three main specialities: “Islamic studies”, “foreign languages”, and “religious studies”. Now those who wish to study at the university can apply for state grants; departments of master’s and doctoral studies have been opened, and a research centre has been organized. In the first 10 years, the university trained more than 500 Islamic scholars, religious scholars and linguists; 300 of them became imams in the regional branches of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan.
Moreover, we have nine madrasahs, where we also study in the speciality “Islamic studies” and “religious studies”. It also provides secular and religious knowledge to preserve and strengthen religious harmony and stability through religious education, promoting traditional spiritual and moral values in our society and preventing the spread of false doctrines and ideologies.
Extremism is a phenomenon generated by religious illiteracy. Religious literacy always saves us from various religious fanaticism and extremism. Therefore, we have the Nur-Mubarak Cultural Islamic University, which is located in Almaty, fortunately belonging to the muftiate. Our future imams receive their education there. We give a lot of lectures. In addition, our professors, many scientists, and teachers from Egypt, together with Kazakh scientists, conduct the training of our future imams. At the same university, we have a two-month institute specially designed for the advanced training of specialists. In other words, specialists are being trained to prevent extremism and terrorism.
In addition, we have nine madrasah colleges. Future specialists are also trained in the regions of the republic. Recently, our institute, with an in-depth study of the theological knowledge of Husamaddin Assaganaki was opened in Astana. Currently, lectures are being given there to our specialists. Thank Allah, so much work is being done.”.
European Muslims are mainly from the Persian Gulf and North Africa. And how to describe the Muslims of Central Asia? Who are they?
“We are a country of Turkic origin, thank God. Our country and the inhabitants of Central Asia have been living on the land of our ancestors for many centuries. Many of us converted to Islam at the beginning of the 8th century. Since then and to this day, Kazakh and Central Asia residents profess Islam.“.
SpecialEurasia Managing Director, Silvia Boltuc, visited Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, to follow the parliamentary elections and meet official representatives to analyse Kazakh domestic and foreign policy, economy and society. For further information about Kazakhstan and the upcoming parliamentary elections, don’t hesitate to get in touch with SpecialEurasia at our e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.