Transnational Fundamentalist Movements A Threat To Kazakh Islam?

2648 words - 11 pages

Islam has a short history of only about few centuries in Kazakhstan, although quite controversial one. At different stages of Islam, being Kazakh assumed adhering to Islam in many ways, though historically Kazakh nomads were less religious than their settled Uzbek neighbors (Gunn 2003: 398). Despite the fact that the Soviet politics on religion changed this perception, Central Asians still consider Islam a constituent of their identity (Gunn 2003: 391), though they practice it in a way that might be criticized by other Muslims. For example, most Central Asians hardly fulfill the obligations that Qur’an places on Muslims (ibid), including the obligation to pray, to fast and to perform the pilgrimage. Therefore, I think there is a reason to talk about transformation of Islam in Kazakhstan, which I define as a process whereby Islam is shaped by Kazakh heritage, giving a rise to “Kazakh” Islam – the one that is compatible with Kazakh culture, national ideology, and multiethnic realm. However, recent concerns over the rise of Islamic fundamentalism suggest that the process of transformation has not ended yet, from which fundamentalist groups pose a threat to “Kazakh” Islam by promoting completely different values and practices. In this paper, I discuss some ways in which the government considers Islamic fundamentalism espoused by Wahhabis and Hizb-ut-Tahrir a threat to “Kazakh” Islam. As transformation of “Kazakh” Islam into violent social action may represent a danger to the nation as a whole, at the end of this paper I give some recommendations on how to nip in the bud potential religious fundamentalization of society.
The Kazakh literature of the pre-Soviet times represents Kazakhs as pretty devout Muslims. For instance, Zhumabayev, in his “Sholpannin Kunasi” (“Sholpan’s Sin”) told the story of a pregnant woman accused of adultery who was poured forty pails of ice water, as decided by judges who looked for Shariah law for guidance. As well as there are many Kazakh poets such as Balasaguni, Babataiuly and others who glorified Islam in their works. Another example is Mukhtar Auezov, a famous Kazakh writer and ethnographer, who describes the pre-Soviet and Soviet social environment in a novel “Abai Zholy” (“The Path of Abai”). Kazakh society, as described by Auezov, adhered to the principles of Islam in many ways. For instance, Shariah law decided fate of many heroes of the novel. At the same time, Kazakh traditions were preserved, such as wedding traditions, relationships between men and women, which means that Kazakhs succeeded to adapt Islam into their culture. The next stage in the history of Islam in Kazakh steppe came with the Soviet Union, when Kazakhs had to limit the expressions of religion due to the Communists-imposed politics of atheism. Because of the destruction of mosques and other forms of prohibitions on religion, Islam began to lose its communal dimension and became an issue of private concern, though people were strongly encouraged...

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