Sunday, July 25, 2021

Gulf State Charities Playing Larger Role in Islamicizing Kazakhstan than are Any State Programs, Kiselyova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 18 – In the 1990s, governments in the Middle East worked hard to promote the re-Islamization of Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries after the collapse of communism; but their role has declined in recent years in part because of suspicions in these countries about the intensions of those involved.

            But now, Muslims in the Gulf states have found a new way to promote Islamization. Their domestic charitable organizations are sending money to Kazakhstan and the others to get them to build mosques and Muslim educational institutions, Tatyana Kiselyova says (

            Such activities generate far less concern among Kazakh officials, the Russian journalist says; but these below-the-radar actions have much the same result because they lead Muslims in Kazakhstan to build mosques and other Islamic institutions and to turn away from secular institutions and, more important, from secular values.

            Kiselyova cites the observations of Kazakh political scientist Daniyar Ashimbayev who says that the failure of the state to provide a clearly defined ideology has left a vacuum which religious groups are seeking to fill. Among them are groups associated with the charitable foundations of Gulf state governments.

            Many Kazakhs have adopted the outer accoutrements of Islam without accepting the doctrines of the faith; but their acceptance of these and their involvement in charitable activities, not bad things in themselves, creates an environment in which extremist groups can form and even flourish.

            And as a result, Ashimbayev says, “doubts are beginning to be cast on the secular foundations of the state,” with the previous balance between ethno-national, religious and civic identities changing. This is especially true among younger Kazakhs whose knowledge of these things is limited.

            In Kazakhstan now, he continues, “the number of mosques is growing while as before there are not enough schools. And the problem is not only in the lack of infrastructure but in the shortages of cadres. In recent decades, teaching has attracted only the least qualified people” and that has had “a negative impact on the quality of education.”

            At the same time, the official Muslim establishment has had little success in combatting extremism or retraining those who fall victim to it. The traditional form of Islam they offer looks to many like “a parody of the ethical code of the citizen of contemporary Kazakhstan” rather than providing the spiritual sustenance people need.

            That too is a vacuum more extreme groups are working to fill with success – and with the help of charitable foundations from the Gulf states.

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