Научная статья на тему 'Aspects of Contemporary Development of Islam and Christianity in the Republic of Kazakhstan'

Aspects of Contemporary Development of Islam and Christianity in the Republic of Kazakhstan Текст научной статьи по специальности «Философия, этика, религиоведение»

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Текст научной работы на тему «Aspects of Contemporary Development of Islam and Christianity in the Republic of Kazakhstan»

Laura Erekesheva,

D.Sc. (Hist.) (Kazakhstan)


The history of Kazakhstan as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious space has always been linked with interaction between cultures and religions of the West and East. Intensive interplay of various cultural systems for more than two thousand years has paved a way to their co-existence and elaboration of a specific cultural code that allowed synthesizing the best of different cultures. The Great Silk Route considerably enhanced and fixed this particular paradigm. On the one hand, this caused the spread in the territory that now comprises Kazakhstan of all world religions (Buddhism, Christianity and Islam) and pools of local and other beliefs (such as Tengri cult, Shamanism, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeanism, Mitraism). On the other hand, the Great Silk Road led to the creation of specific syncretism in the culture of the local population, which has always favorably distinguished this region, and thus paved a way to forming the tradition of tolerance and respect.

With introduction of Islam, these vectors were given further boost. The Muslim Renaissance of the X-XIII centuries in the Arab world and Middle Asia became a linking thread joining the achievements of Ancient Greece with the European Christian Renaissance, which occurred later. One could say that without the bright figures of early medieval Muslim thought, such as al-Ghazali, ibn-Rushed (Averroes), ibn-Sina (Avicenna), and al-Farabi, it would not have been possible for European scholiasts to become acquainted with either Aristotle or Plato. Though it is also worth noting the

tremendous translation work accomplished with the help of the Christian (particularly Nestorian) community, which speaks for itself.

Later, the spread in Central Asia of the ideas of Western enlightenment and modernity enhanced the understanding of coexistence and the interactions between different cultures. The idea of the complementarity of East and West cultures was highlighted and further propagated by XIX-XX century Kazakh philosophers and enlighteners such as Chokan Valikhanov, Abai, Shakarim, Mashkur-Yusup Kopei-uly. The idea of the peaceful co-existence of the values of different cultures and religion thus became the basis for the further development of tolerance.

The specific feature of contemporary Kazakhstan is its multi-confessional and multi-ethnic heterogeneity - there are more than 40 religious confessions and denominations. As in the case of ethnic diversity, in 1990s religious plurality could have become the destabilizing factor. However, due to the historical traditions of rather peaceful coexistence of the various religious communities, primarily Islamic (Sunni) and Christian (Orthodoxy), and due to the high degree of tolerance embedded in nomadic culture, the absence of inter-religious strife and the rather well balanced state policy have made inter-confessional tolerance normative.

Considerable changes in religious sphere took lace in independent Kazakhstan, including striking (compared to the Soviet period) growth in the number of religious entities, up from 661 in 1989, to 2192 in 1998, and 3259, as of January 1, 2006. In 2003, the proportion of religious communities was: Islam 53.7%; Orthodox 7.8%; Catholic 2.9%; Christian-Baptist 12.3%; Lutheran 3.2%; new sects 11.1%; and others 3%. It is worth noting the reduction of Islamic dominance, which had never been absolute, which speaks to the multi-confessional character of Kazakhstani society: During independence the

number of Orthodox parishes increased in 4 times and Catholic parishes doubled. There are more than 1000 Protestant missions and prayer houses and 21 Jewish communities, and, for the first time in many centuries, a Buddhist temple was built. The number of followers of Islam also grew, from 46 communities in 1989, 679 in 1996, more than 1000 in 1998, 1652 in 2003, and 1766 as of 1 January 2006.

Data provided by the Spiritual Assembly of the Muslims of Kazakhstan (so-called DUMK) gives higher figures for both the followers of Islam and Islamic religious organizations: in 2008 "there were about 9 million Muslims in the republic, which comprises 67% of the population. Out of 2337 Muslim organizations acting in Kazakhstan, 2334 belong to Sunni and 3 to Shia Islam"; "Muslim organizations possess 2195 mosques".

The historical form of Islam in Kazakhstan is Sunni Islam of Khanafi mazkhab, characterized by a rather high degree of tolerance towards other believers and the use of norms of regular law (adapt)and analogous thinking in the legal field (al-kiyas), which in the theological field (in fikh) paves the way for the "use of rational attitudes in resolving legal issues", and which originates in Aristotelian logic".

The followers of Khanafi Mazkhab comprise a majority of the Kazakhstani Muslims of various ethnic origins. The exception is the Chechen and Ingush followers of the Sunnism of Shafia mazkhab which has been strongly influenced by Khanafi and Malikit mazkhabs. "Institutionally, the Sunnism of Shafia mazkhab is not a formal structure though there are some mosques, particularly the Almaty mosque that opened in 1998 and in Pavlodar the mosque "The House of Kazakhstan" or so called Vainah mosque, officially registered in February 2001. The Moslem world the Sunnism of Khanbali mazkhab is characterized by the denial of freedom of ideas in religion, fanatic observance of religious rites and the legal norms of sharia, and by the

restricted usage of kiyas. Such practices "began pouring into the Kazakhstan" with increased international links.

The institutional milieu reflected the changes in the religious sphere, first in the establishment in January 1990 of the Spiritual Body of the Muslims of Kazakhstan (or DUMK), headed by Mufti Ratbek-kazhi Nisanbayuli, and later, since June 2000, by Mufti Absattar-khazi Derbisali. There is such specificity of Islam in the country that "the majority of the population of Kazakhstan consider themselves Muslims. But I'd like to stress that the dominance of Islam in Kazakhstan by no means opposes the full-scale functioning of other beliefs".

The independent Kazakhstan Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) was also institutionalized. In general Orthodoxy can be considered the second, after Islam, historically developed traditional religion in Kazakhstan. While there were only 55 parishes in 1956, as of 1 January 2008 the Orthodox Church had 281 religious entities in Kazakhstan, including 257 cult buildings. As for of 1 January of 2003 the Russian Orthodox Church had 222 parishes and 8 monasteries, compared to 62 parishes in 1989, and 131 in 1993.

Initially, in structural terms, the Orthodoxy in Kazakhstan performed as the Kazakhstan Eparchy, which in 1991 was divided into three eparchial bodies, Almaty-Semopalatinsk (with Astana), Shymkent, and Uralsk. Additionally, since 2002, "the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church decreed that Archbishop of Astana and Almaty Alexiy had to oversee the spiritual life of Orthodox Christians living in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China (currently there are no Orthodox Churches in China)". On May 7, 2003, the Synod decided to establish a Metropolitan district in Kazakhstan which would comprise the Astana, Uralsk, and Shymkent eparchies, with Astana as its center and Metropolitan Mefodiy (Nemtsov) as its Head.

The official visit to Kazakhstan of Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill in January 2010gave new impetus towards developing Orthodoxy in the country, and became a step in strengthening relations between Orthodox and Islam communities. The Uspenskiy Cathedral in Astana, blessed by the Patriarch, has come to be known as the biggest Christian Cathedral in Central Asia (its height is 68 meters and at the footprint is 2000 square meters), which can embrace up to 4000 worshippers at a time.

The high status of Orthodoxy in the republic and the state policy in the religious field is evident in the institutionalization, since 2006, of the Orthodox Christmas and Kurban-ait festivals as non-working days: "For the first time in our history the important religious festivals were declared non-working days, so to let the believers fully perform the cults and rites". It is also evident in the President's annual address, on January 7th, to all Kazakhstanis and especially to Orthodox Christians, congratulating them on the birth of Jesus Christ.

Kazakhstan constantly stresses that the idea of confessional interaction as vital for regional stability originated in its history and geography. The other form of this policy can be traced in the attempts to strengthen the dialogue between Islam and Christianity, both in national and foreign policies.

The state policy in the confessional dialogue with Christianity also embraces Catholicism and cooperation with the Vatican. The spread of Catholicism in Kazakhstan is related to the settlement of (starting as early as the XIX century) Poles, Germans, and Ukrainians in the region. Since the 1900s, the Catholicism has undergone some structural-administrative transformations. In spring 1991, in particular, the Apostolic Administratura of Kazakhstan and Middle Asia was established, which included also Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, with the center in Karaganda. In August 1999, the

Apostolic Administratura of Kazakhstan was transformed into the Karaganda Eparchy (embracing parishes of the Karaganda and Eastern Kazakhstan regions). Then three Apostolic Administraturas were established in Astana, Almaty, and Atyrau. Further, following decisions by the former Pope John Paul II, the Apostolic Administratura in Astana was upgraded to the Archdiocese of Saint Mary, and consequently the Episcopal Conference was established in Kazakhstan. Currently, there are 90 Catholic communities in the structure of Roman Catholic Church in Kazakhstan, out of which 82 are registered as judicial entities and branches. They possess more than 40 temples, and about 200 chapels and prayer houses. More than 60 priests (mainly foreigners - Italians, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Koreans, etc.) and 70 nuns work there.

In the international arena, Kazakhstan became the first CIS country to sign on September 24, 1998 the "agreement on Mutual Cooperation between the Government of Kazakhstan and the Holy See" (diplomatic relations were established earlier, in October 17, 1992). The first official sate visit of former Pope John Paul II to Kazakhstan, which occurred September 22-25, 2001, was an important event in the spiritual and political life. During that visit, the Pope performed a solemn mess in Astana, which embraced more than 20,000 pilgrims from Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

With the combined history and links between the Catholic Church (dating from the XIII century, and the travels of Franciscan and Minorite monks Plano de Carpini and de Roebruk) and the Orthodox Church (within the Russian empire), Kazakhstanhas now become a historically justified and convenient ground for the dialogue between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. It is worth mentioning that, on November 30, 2010, the Vatican donated the shrine with relics of Saint Andrew Protokletos to the Metropolitan district of the Russian Orthodox Church

in Astana. The shrine was brought to Astana by the State Secretary of the Holy See, Cardinal Tarcizio Bertone, second in the Catholic hierarchy after the Pope, in cooperation with the Head of the Metropolitan Diocese, Metropolitan bishop Alexander (from the Orthodox Church), and others.

Along with Orthodoxy and Catholicism, the Protestant Church is also rather widely represented in Kazakhstan, what can perhaps be explained by the history of Kazakhstan as a multi-religious space. The beginning of the spread of Protestantism goes back to the colonial history of Kazakhstan and is related to the settlement of Germans -colonial army people and civil servants. In the XIX-XX centuries, the settlement of ethnic Germans, particularly during the Stolypin reforms of early XX century and especially during the World War II, resulted in the high increase of Protestants. Since the beginning of the XXI century, despite emigration of ethnic Germans after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Protestantism has continued to spread in the country, with "850 entities of more than 30 Protestant confessions". According to 2007 data, the total number of all Protestant entities and groups (including traditional Pentecostals, Presbyterians, as well as representatives of non-traditional charismatic branches) comprised 1173. By this number Protestantism is second only to Islam, which numbers 2345 religious entities and groups. In general, the Protestant branch of Christianity has a rather considerable presence in Kazakhstan.

* * *

Nowadays, Kazakhstan can be regarded as a convenient ground for institutionalized religious dialogue, which has been successfully developed within the frameworks of the Congresses of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions held in 2003, 2006 and 2009 (in

international arena) and the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan (on national level), all of which were aimed at promoting the ideas of the "culture of peace" and social cohesion.

The Congresses of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions were initially conceived as a common ground for convening various religious leaders to reflect on the mega-tendencies of modern time - globalization and simultaneous differentiation and the issues of identity. The leitmotif of the Congresses can be assumed-up as follows: Exiting from the dead-end of global culture is impossible through political actions only. The role of spiritual leaders is decisive; the cultural and religious diversity of the world is a reality which must be understood and accepted. Any other approach by politicians can explode the world. The issue of today is not only about the interaction of religions; it is about the global dialogue between the religious and secular worlds as well, and there is need for balance between the traditions and the search for the new.

A sampling of these Congresses allows a better perception of the transformations on global level and it reflects the global-local correlation, highlighting the attempts of one particular state towards instituting a new paradigm of development.

The first Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions took place in Astana, September 23-24, 2003, and gathered 17 delegations. The Second Congress, in 2006, gathered 29 delegations, and the third Congress, in 2009, gathered 77 delegations from 35 countries of the world.

Congress I adopted a resolution stating that confessional dialogue is a most valuable tool in sustaining peace and concord among countries. In addition, one of the most powerful results of the Congress was institutionalizing the idea of interaction among the leaders of various confessions and providing a framework for discussions on the

international level. As President N. Nazarbayev mentioned, "There was no such universal forum before (for sharing the perspectives of confessions' representatives)". The first meeting established the working body of the Congress - the secretariat.

Congress II took place in 2006, and highlighted the new relations between confessions at a time of escalation of conflicts, particularly in Iraq, which was reflected in the key theme of the Congress - "Religion, Society, and International Security" - as well as in its decisions. The final Declaration stated views on the role of religion in the modern world and the role of religious leaders in maintaining global peace and international security.

Strikingly, the concept of the Congresses was expressed symbolically in the new Palace of Peace and Concord (in the form of a Pyramid) built by the time of the second Congress, as a project of Norman Foster.

He opening address by N. Nazarbayev was representative in presenting the traditional issues related to the role of religion in maintaining international security. He highlighted a range of conceptual philosophical ideas, which can be broadly summarized as the implementation of "the old principle of non-violence in thoughts, words and actions". He relates non-violence in thoughts, i.e. in the inner spiritual world, to the field of religious searchers, and nonviolence in words, in mass-media, and non-violence in action, to the political field: "The abstention from violence on the level of religious doctrine, mass-media, and political action is the only basis for survival in the modern world.

Nazarbayev considers this specific "triad" of religion, massmedia, and politics to be the basis of world peace, with non-violence in the religious sphere as the foundation: "when religious leaders seriously discuss the advancement of one religion over the other, then it becomes

clear that the conflict is laid at the beginning. When mass-media savors mockery over the sacred feelings of believers, sooner or later those journalists will face mockery of their own beliefs. When politicians without hesitation order the use using of force in ethnic-religious conflicts, it becomes clear that the war will come to the threshold of their own houses. In this triad, there should be no aggressive parts, and the foundation attitude of religious leaders must be free of aggressiveness.

The triadic principle of nonviolence is further regarded in the context of modern life as "a carcass for understanding". It is not yet a dialogue, but it is basis for dialogue. Without such basis, any dialogue is a "waste of time". Beyond the basic structure, the principles of dialogue include the following: abstention from stereotypes and intrusion into other sacral spheres, and answers to new non-standard challenges developed jointly by world and traditional religions.

These principles define a certain framework for religious dialogue. In this sacred field one can carry the thesis directly leading to the theological level in order "to search for the basis of dialogue through the divine in a man, not through the human in the divine". The purely theological thesis seems to bears a special meaning in modern world allowing us to find the basis for mutual understanding in religious interlinks.

The next two issues relate to the concepts of cultural and religious diversity and religious-secular dialogue. From the late XX century, these issues have been highlighted in the academic, theological, political, and social fields, including in the decisions of inter-governmental organizations. However, addressing the issues on the theoretical and policy levels does not deny the practical level.

The idea of maintaining cultural and religious diversity is highlighted here in relation to the multiplicity of cultures, based on a

"cult of God". Through thousands of years, faith-based cultures kept their word alive in history. In a certain sense, maintaining their religious spirit is the guarantee (pledge) of survival in a history of whole people". Hence the idea that "the world cannot be built on the basis of only one civilizational project... The attempts of one cultural tradition to impose its own values on other cultures. will not lead to understanding. On the contrary, such tough cultural expansion elicits tough resistance. Only respect for the historical traditions of other people, justice, and sincerity among civilizations, religions, and people are able to create the world of concord and spirituality".

Congress III of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions took place 1-2, 2009 in Astana. 77 delegations from 35 countries participated in the Congress, which was organized with technical assistance of institutions of the United Nations Organization. In 2009, the world situation was characterized by the problems of social instability, financial crisis, terrorism, nuclear disarmament, etc, which was reflected in the main topic of the Congress - "The Role of Religious Leaders in Building Peace Based on Tolerance, Mutual Respect, and Cooperation". Socio-economic cataclysms caused the participants to look anew at the issues of spirituality, moral, and social solidarity and dialogue. The idea that the real probable cause of economic and social cataclysms is the lack of even absence of spirituality was discussed at the Congress.

The national meetings were mainly defined by such themes as: 1) Moral and spiritual values, world ethics; 2) Dialogue and cooperation; 3) Solidarity, especially in a time of crisis. The general concept of the Congress reflected the idea that current crisis cannot be overcome without a change of mind and the firm observance of moral norms and high principles: "only a just world order can become a basis of flourishing in human society".

The activity of the new International Centre of Cultures and religions should work to address these issues, and new ideas and policy recommendations will be elaborated in the specific laboratory of the Congresses.

The growing interest in the Congress, reflected in the growing number of participants, and the actuality of the issues discussed facilitates its becoming an effective meeting place for dialogue, as a part of a much broader global process of building and maintaining cooperation among religions. The Congress addressed issues also being addressed through such mechanisms as the "Alliance of Civilizations", initiatives of Russia (International High Level Group of Religious Leaders, Consultative Council at UNO on Religions) and the Saudi Arabia Inter-religious Dialogue, which resulted in the adoption in 2008 of the Madrid Declaration on Inter-religious Dialogue.

One of the practical results of the work of the third Congress was the Address of the Congress participants disseminated in the United Nations as an official document of the UN General Assembly and Security Council. This document promotes the ideas and concepts of the forum in the international arena.

"World Religions in the context of the Contemporary Culture: New Perspectives of dialogue and mutual understanding", St. Petersburg, 2011, pp. 115, 123-129.

S. Sushchi,

Political analyst


For the last years, the situation in the South of Russia, primarily in the North Caucasus, was marked by sustainable deterioration, to the

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