THE MAJOR TRADITIONAL RELIGIONS IN MODERN KAZAKHSTAN: THEIR BRIEF HISTORICAL ORIGINS, CONTEXTUALITY AND SUBSEQUENT DEVELOPMENT.
By Gulnara Kussainova,
L.Gumilyov Eurasian National University,
Astana, Republic of Kazakhstan.
The two major traditional religions in modern 21st century in Kazakhstan are Islam and Orthodox Christianity. In this article we give the brief historical origins of these two religions, their current religious conditions in Kazakhstan, and also mutual relations between these two main confessions.
Islam in Kazakhstan has some unique qualities which allow us to speak about a Kazakhstani variant of Islam. One of the factors which affects the special nature of Islam in Kazakhstan is the fact that it took a long time for Islam to be finally adopted by Kazakh nomads. Islam first arrived in Kazakhstan in the eighth century. Only in the sixteenth century did Kazakhs begin identifying themselves as Sunni Muslims of Khanafit Mazhab. Even in the eighteenth century Islam as religious doctrine, and a way of life, remained uncommon in the conscience of the Kazakh people.
“Before Islam first took root in Central Asia in the seventh century A.D., the area already had been exposed to other religions: shamannism, Hellenism, Manichaenism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism” [1; 105]. The Kazakhs were converted to Islam with the arrival of Arabs to Central Asia. Islam was widely adopted by Kazakhs in many respects thanks to missionary activity of the governors of the Samanids. The ancient Kazakh city of Taraz became the centre of the new religion. Toward the end of the 1300s the Golden Horde became the preacher of this new religion of Islam among the people of Central Asia at this time.
The considerable role in Islam popularization amongst the nomads belongs to a Sufi philosopher Hodja Akhmed Yassawi, ranked by Moslems of Kazakhstan to the most sacred person after Mohammed. Today many Moslems worship at the Mausoleum of Yassawi.
«Generally the pilgrimage to tombs of religious-patrimonial authorities, to worship anybody except Allah is considered as an infringement of norms of Orthodox Islam. However, practically in all of the Islamic world, except Saudi Arabia, Moslems worship the sacred» . Yassawi had made a strong impact on the distribution and establishment of Islam in territories of Kazakhstan and Southern Siberia. “Sufist philosophy in its early form preached self-denial and asceticism in reaction to the growing materialism of Arabic society engendered by the bounty of conquest. The object of the early Sufis was to go beyond reason and emotion, striving to become one with God through mystical contemplation; in this respect, Sufism had been compared with Zen Buddhism and other Eastern religions” [3; 118]. “In quite a few of his poems, restraint, compassion for the needs of the people, and decency are propagandized” [4; 49]. The religious success of the Sufis had been also conditioned by the fact that Yassawi and his pupils preached ideas of Islam in Turkic languages, considered the mental level of the nomadic population, the strong independence of women and even allowed women to follow the Sufi tariqa(h) . The city of Turkestan where Yassawi lived and preached is considered a small Mecca among believing Moslems of Kazakhstan and is said to be advocated by the mullahs as substitutes for the hajj .
Since 1700 the Russian influence had increased on the Steppe Kazakh land which in the religious sphere was reflected in a weakening of positions of the Islamic faith by means of a gradual replacement of Islam by pre-Islamic religious heritage – tengrianism and shamanism. However, as V. Hljupin writes «a known historic fact of Western-Siberian governor General G.Gasfort’s attempt “to invent” a separate religion for steppe nomads in due time the attempt did not meet the understanding at emperor Nikolay I and remained non-realised» . There were also some attempts by the Russians to convert Muslims to Orthodox Christianity, but “by and large the Muslims remained free to practice their own religion and customs, except when provisions of the sharia were “repugnant” to Russian justice” .
At the time of the October revolution in 1917 there were in this predominantly Sunni region one mosque for every 700 to 1000 inhabitanta of the territory, 595 religious medreses and 6300 religious schools [8; 305].
The Soviet period is characterized by a propagation of militant atheism and general communistic ideology. In Kazakhstan the insignificant number of institutes of Islam continued to function in regions where the number of Moslems prevailed over non-Moslems, mainly among inhabitants of the countryside adhered to some traditions of Islam.
With the collapse of the Soviet system the revival of traditional religions – Islam and Orthodox Christianity in Kazakhstan – began. In the early 1990s with an active financial support of Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia‘s building of mosques and spiritual schools in all of the territories of the Republic was renewed.
By 2009 almost 3200 mosques, churches and houses of worship were actively functioning in the Republic. By 2010 according to the data from the Spiritual Division of Moslems of Kazakhstan, the religion of Islam in Kazakhstan is professed by 9 million Moslems. Among them there are representatives of 24 nations, and the general number of Moslems in the country makes 67 % of the population. Sunnism of Khanafit Mazhab is the faith professed in Kazakhstan which is confessed by majorities of Kazakhs, and the ethnic groups of Tatars, Bashkirs, Uigurs, Uzbeks, Karakalpaks, Kyrgyz, Dungans living in the Republic of Kazakhstan. Out of 2337 operating religious institutions of Islam 2334 belong to Sunnis and 3 to Shiits, and the number of registered mosques in all cases totals 2195. Chechens and Ingushes of Kazakhstan profess Sunnism of Shafiit Mazhab. Organizationally Sunnism of Shafiit Mazhab is not formally recognized in the Republic of Kazakhstan. In 1998 a Shiit mosque was opened in Almaty, then in February 2001 the mosque of «House of Kazakhstan» (or the so-called Vainakh Mosque) was officially registered in Pavlodar, and collectively there are only a few Shiit mosques in the Republic compared to over 2000 Sunni mosques in the whole country.
Until 1990 the functions of the Supreme Division of Moslems was carried out by the Spiritual Division of Moslems of Central Asia and the Republic of Kazakhstan in Tashkent. In January 1990 the first Kurultaj of Moslems of the Republic proclaimed the formation of the Spiritual Division of Moslems of Kazakhstan (the SDMÊaz), the new organization independent from SDM-Tashkent. The deputy of the Supreme body of KazSSR of the 12th convocation Ratbek Nysanbaev, who soon renamed himself according to national manners into Ratbek Hadzhi Nysanbaj-uly, became the first mufti of the Republic of Kazakhstan. According to the charter accepted by Kurultaj, this appointment became a lifelong appointment, but further political events brought some gradual updating.
According to V.Hlupin, at the moment of gaining independence the Republic of Kazakhstan in respect of Islam showed the respective unequal weight of paradoxes and the main thrust of them consisted in the fact that while the majority of Moslems of Kazakhstan formally belonged to Sunnism of Khanafit Mazhab, ethnic non-Kazakhs dominated in the management of SDMÊaz of the first few years of independence, mainly ranking to the advantage of Shafiit Mazhab – Chechens, Ingushes, and others .
On December 13th 1991 the political group "Alash"  calling themselves the “National Front of "Alash", captivated the central Almaty mosque by force and declared the deposition of mufti Nysanbaj-uly and his subsequent replacement by the imam of the Taldy-Kurgan mosque Mashanlo. However the activity of the political group Alash did not meet broad support among the general population. On December 15th the Almaty OMON attacked the mosque, and deposed Mashanlo. The leaders of "Alash" were subjected to instant justice. The actions of Alash were qualified by the authorities as malicious hooliganism. The leader of the "front" Aron Atabek Nutushev and some of his supporters received only one year of probation .
On June 15th 2000 at the meeting of the Presidium of SDMÊaz mufti Ratbek Hadzhi Nysanbaj-uly informed the public of his desires to retire because of personal health problems. The urgently called 3rd Kurultaj of Moslems of Kazakhstan accepted his voluntary retirement of the mufti and made some more important shifts – a naib-mufti (the assistant of mufti), the bookkeeper of muftijat and the head of the department of a mosque were also replaced. Ratbek Hadzhi has kept the place of a member of the Presidium of the SDMÊaz. He was offered the choice to become the spiritual instructor and the adviser of a new mufti. Now the SDMÊaz is headed by mufti Sheikh Absattar Hadzhi Derbisali, Doctor of Philology and the former adviser of the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan in Saudi Arabia. The Supreme mufti of the SDMKaz is also the Chairman of the Counsel of muftis of Central Asia and Kazakhstan, the organization which was established in 2007 with the collective assistance of the supreme muftis of Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tatarstan and Turkey.
After the organization of the Spiritual Division of Moslems of Kazakhstan the program of the revival of Islam had then been developed in the Republic: New mosques, spiritual schools for the preparation of mullahs had been opened, the Islamic spiritual literature in the Kazakh language began to be published. In the city of Almaty the Central mosque had been constructed and the Islamic Cultural Centre was opened. Another powerful contribution to the revival of Islam in Kazakhstan was the creation of the Fund of Islamic Culture and Formation with the support of the state of the Republic of Kazakhstan. In 2010 the Republic of Kazakhstan was entrusted to head the Organization of Islamic Conference.
The SDMKaz supervises building of mosques in Kazakhstan, and for this purpose the special commission was created. During the past fifteen years more than one thousand mosques were constructed in the Republic of Kazakhstan, and currently many of them are branches of the SDMKaz. In cities such as Almaty, Aktau, Aktobe, Karaganda, Pavlodar, Satpayev and Ust-Kamenogorsk the largest of the new mosques were then opened. A number of Islamic states, such as the Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, show much interest in reviving the religion of Islam in the region: Many mosques were built with the financial support from Islamic funds of these foreign countries. A new mosque "Nur-Astana" opened in Astana, the Capital city of the Republic of Kazakhstan, in 2005 which was a spontaneous gift of Qatar to the Republic of Kazakhstan. Another contribution from foreign Muslim countries in this revival and strengthening of positions of faith in Islam in Kazakhstan was underscored by the opening of the Egyptian University of Islamic culture of "Nur-Mubarak" in Almaty which became possible because of an agreement signed in June 2001 between the governments of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Arabian Republic of Egypt. Beginning in 2004 the first graduates of "Islamic Studies" Department (ISD) received their diplomas of "Nur-Mubarak" University, and subsequently accepted appointment to the various posts of imams in different mosques of Kazakhstan. The Islamic University "Al-Azhar" in Cairo accepts students from Kazakhstan for Master’s and doctoral degrees in Islamic Sciences, for which their preparation is carried out on the basis of the aforementioned Agreement on Cooperation. Since 2007 preparation of theologians for the Spiritual Divisions of Kazakhstan began in Turkey. Also Turkey subsequently publishes the methodical literature for theologians of the Republic of Kazakhstan. In December 2008 the President of Turkey Abdulla Gul during his visit to Astana presented the Holy Quran to the Supreme mufti Derbisali. Earlier in the 1990s the Holy Quran in the Kazakh language in Caliph of Altai’s translation had been presented to the Moslems of Kazakhstan by Saudi Arabia. In November 2008 the Minister for Religious Affairs, Vakufs and the Islamic Appeal of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia visited Kazakhstan and gave a lecture at the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation in the capital of the Republic – the city of Astana.
In the early 2000s the Islamic religious literature in the Kazakh and Arabian languages was published and imported to Kazakhstan from Turkey, Pakistan and Russia. Nowadays the magazines "Iman" and "Shapagat-Nur" are currently released in Kazakhstan; the monthly newspaper «Islam zhane Orkeniet» with a medium circulation of 44 thousand copies and other religious literature and calendars in the Kazakh language are published. There are full-time courses for the reception of initial religious faith education at many mosques, as also it is possible to learn the Arabian language there.
The growing number of Islam faith believers who make a pilgrimage to Mecca is steadily increasing. For example, according to the SDMKaz data, in 1997 about 600 Moslems from Kazakhstan made hajj, in 2001 - 228, in 2002 - 177, in 2003 - 360, in 2004 - 1214, in 2005 – more than 900, in 2006 ã - 2740, in 2007 - 4030 Moslems11. In 2006 with a view to control the organization of hajj the Commission on organization of pilgrimage of Kazakhstani citizens was created in the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Besides the above mentioned Mausoleum of Hodja Akhmed Yassawi in the city of Turkestan, believers of the Republic highly appreciate the necropolises of "Beket-Ata" and "Shopan-Ata" located in Atyrau oblast, "Shora-Molda" in South Kazakhstan oblast, "Ajsha-bibi" and "Arstan-bab" in Zhambyl oblast. Practically most regions in the country have local holy sites of their own religious-patrimonial authorities to where their descendants make the pilgrimage.
With the strengthening of ties between the believers of Kazakhstan and the believers of the Muslim world Sunnism of Khanbalit Mazhab began to spread into Kazakhstan. Sunnism of Khanbalit Mazhab is characterized by the negation of freedom of opinions in any religions, fanatical severity in observance of ceremonial and Shariah rules of law, and importantly the limited application of kiyas. This mazhab might form the basis for the distribution of ideas of Islamic fundamentalism in the Republic, - in consideration of the SDMKaz .
Under the guiding influence of the Pakistan preachers a community of "Ahmadie" whose full name is «National Ahmadij Muslim Zhamagat (Community) of the Republic of Kazakhstan» was eventually established. The Ahmadijs registered their charter in 1994 in the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Their have been some women’s religious societies established, for example, the “Muslim Women’s League of Kazakhstan”, the “Association of Fatima”, the movement “Rifakh”, and others. Their activities are focused on cultivating ethnic and religious identities of people with a Muslim tradition; which, in practice, is identified with the revival of patriarchal values of traditional society. Their activities are mainly of an educational and charitable nature .
Sufism as a faith-based belief in Kazakhstan is represented by the Naqshabandi (Naqshbandiya) and Yassawi orders. The regional Uzbek Sufi leaders influenced some of the Muslims in the Karaganda, Kyzyl-Orda and South Kazakhstan oblasts. In 1992, there was also a philosophical and spiritual society, “Sufi brotherhood”, established in Almaty. The society united philosophers, writers, and educators to “study and reflect on Muslim Sufi philosophy”.
In the early 1990s such religious organizations as "Tarihatshylar", "Nurdzhi" and "Zikr" were registered in Kazakhstan, whose religious activities were later forbidden by the political authorities. As well as these events there has been developed a vigorous activity by a number of religious organizations and communities in the Republic, which are already or had been in the past considered by the SDMKaz to be pseudo-Muslim organizations, as all of them appear to contradict to Sunnism of Khanafit Mazhab, officially professed in the Republic by the Moslems of the country.
To such organizations and communities the SDMKaz refer the followers of the communities, such as, Ahmadie, bahai, doctrines of Ismatulla, mahdia, salafija (vahhabism), takfir, sufi current of Kurban-ali and shija. Radicals from "Hizb-ut-Tahrir", "East Turkestan", "al Kaide", "Taliban", "Lashkar-and-tajba", "Brothers Moslems", "Asbat-al-Ansar" by now had gone underground .
Thus the Muslims believers of Kazakhstan are now mostly Sunnis. They believe that the right to freedom of conscience and religion is a prerequisite as well as a means of voluntarily entrusting of oneself to the one God and His will. There is such a provision which already exists a-priori in the Holy Quran as: “no compulsion in religion”. It is in one sense the aspect of awareness of the practical realization of the unique individual’s private right to freedom of conscience and religion. All Muslim believers are obliged by the Holy Quran to respect the unique individual religious beliefs of all others and strive to live in peace with them on the basis of the social contract.
“Islam attaches great importance to the contract as to the form of social existence set out above. The state and its laws are deemed as a form of social contract, which has already achieved the best possible compromise and a balance of interests of different social groups and religious organizations” . According to the Kazakhstani Muslims, the best way to achieve lasting civil accord between different people and nations, as well as the enduring stability of public order, is a treaty. This applies to relationships within the Ummah, as well as with non-Muslims. State laws are considered by Muslims as the result of the agreement of all social groups on common rules of coexistence in the same territory and in the same legal and economical system of the state. The state and its laws are guarantees of ensuring the natural and fundamental rights, and freedoms of its citizens. In the case of annihilation of the constitutional foundations and termination of legitimate institutions of state power, and the establishment of a political regime which does not respect basic human rights, people have a fundamental and compelling right to consider the legitimacy of such a regime. Under the law that protects fundamental rights and freedoms it is not only a civil but also a religious duty of all Muslims to observe the legislation of their country as the highest social contract above all others between citizens. The Muslims can express their dissenting views and beliefs within the framework of the existing legislation. All forms of discrimination are prohibited in Islam.
Islam does not prescribe any particular form of government and rule. Calls for civil disobedience in Islam are forbidden. No government and no power can be declared "divine" and irresponsible to the people. Unlike the Social Concept of Orthodoxy in Christianity, where in special cases, there can be calls by the church authorities for peaceful civil disobedience to the civil authorities, the Social Doctrine of Muslims categorically opposes such a possibility. The ordinary citizen has the right to control all power. The Kazakhstani Ummah, recognizing the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan as the supreme treaty, which regulates the lives of the entire population of the country, recognizes the fundamental authority right of the supreme bodies, elected by the ordinary citizens, including Muslims, to decide important questions, in accordance with the basic law of the country for the benefit of all Kazakhstani citizens.
The attitude of Muslims towards the traditional religions is fixed in the Quran where Allah (the one God) proclaims the equality of all other religions to Muslims. This provision is very important for such a multi-confessional country as is Kazakhstan. Initially the attitude of Muslims towards other religions is not traditionally determined by the subjective emotions of an individual person but by the will of Almighty God. Allah calls upon the kindness and justice of Muslims to non-Muslims. Only in case of aggression from Non-Muslims must Muslims take defensive steps to protect themselves and their loved ones; nevertheless the peace talks take priority over the force.
Muslims do not practice proselytism. Muslims can marry Christians and Jewess. Muslims always want to have a dialogue with representatives of traditional religions. But their attitude towards pseudo-Muslim extremist organizations is extremely negative. The SDMKaz strongly condemns terror and extremism.
The SDMKaz is always ready to cooperate with other faiths to promote the spiritual revival of the society and to avoid religious hostility. A true Muslim will never knowingly be the instigator of the conflict with the Non-Muslims.
Orthodoxy is the second most widespread religion in Kazakhstan. In 2003 the Russian Orthodox Church (the ROC) had 230 parishes in the Republic . In general the Orthodoxy in Kazakhstan is represented by the individual parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church and Communities of Old Believers. The history of the origin of Orthodoxy in the physical landscape of the Kazakh land goes back to the former occupancy times of occurrence of military settlements in the territory of Kazakhstan, soon after the union of Kazakhstan with the Russian Empire. In 1871 the Turkestani Eparchy was formed. Nowadays the currently existing Almaty, Shymkent and Tashkent Eparchies originate from the original Turkestani Eparchy.
In 1872 archbishop Sophonios – S.V.Sokolsky – was initially appointed the first Kazakhstan eparch in Vernensky and Semirechensky Eparchy where he supervised within 5 years until 1877. Before the revolution of 1917 Orthodoxy in comparison with other religions of the region, enjoyed special privileges, as a consequence of being the state religion of imperial Russia.
The establishment of Soviet power subsequently followed the prosecution and persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church. By the end of the 1930s there were only some churches in Kazakhstan, as subsequently many of them were destroyed or used as warehouses and workshops. In 1945 a new and vigorous revival of the ecclesiastic life began in the country – the Kazakhstan Eparchy was recreated and renewed, and the archbishop Nikolay – N.Mogilevsky supervised from1945 to 1955. During this time of Soviet power church donations were deducted in various funds mainly for Soviet Fund of Peace. Thanks to the vigorous activity of archbishop Nikolay old churches began to be restored and new churches to be constructed in the Republic. Later archbishop Nikolay became the metropolitan, and in 2000 he was canonized by the Jubilee Cathedral.
In 1991 the Holy Synod of the ROC divided all parishes into three eparchial divisions: Almaty-Semipalatinsk, Shymkent, and Ural. That sweeping reform met broad support neither at clergy level, nor among laymen. Nowadays orthodox parishes are divided as follows: Almaty-Semipalatinsk eparchial division in 1999 was transformed into Astana and Almaty Eparchy. This new Eparchy includes parishes in the cities of Astana and Almaty and in Almaty, East Kazakhstan, Karaganda and Pavlodar oblasts. In the Ural and Guryev Eparchy parishes of Aktyubinsk, Atyrau, West Kazakhstan, Kostanaj and Mangystau oblasts are united. The Shymkent and Akmolinsk Eparchy includes parishes of Akmolinsk, Zhambyl, Kyzylorda, North Kazakhstan and South Kazakhstan oblasts.
The Archbishop Alex – Andrey Kutepov who graduated from the Moscow Spiritual Academy in 1984, became the first spiritual head of the revitalized ROC in post soviet Kazakhstan. For his contribution to the strengthening of international and inter-confessional consent Archbishop Alex has been presented to government awards: in 1995 Archbishop Alex was honoured with the Presidential Award of Peace and Spiritual Consent; in 1999 he was awarded with a medal "Astana", in 2001 – a medal "10 years of Independence of the Republic of Kazakhstan", in 2002 – an award "Parasat". In October 2002 by the decision of the Holy Synod Archbishop Alex was appointed the Archbishop of Tula and Belevsk.
On May 7th 2003 the Synod decided to found the Metropolitan District in Kazakhstan whose structure included Astana, Ural and Shymkent Eparchies. Astana became the center of the district, and the head of the district was proclaimed Metropolitan Methodius – N. Nemtsov who graduated from Leningrad Spiritual Academy. Metropolitan Mefody has been awarded «Saint Equiapostolic Prince Vladimir» of the first degree, «Blessed Prince Daniil of Moscow» of second degree, «For Honourable Services to the Country» of the second degree, "Friendship" Order. Before his appointment to Kazakhstan Methodius was the metropolitan of Voronezh and Lipetsk, the chairman of the historical and legal commission at Russian Orthodox Church, the Counsel on communications with public and religious organizations and associations under the President of the Russian Federation, a member of an editorial board of the annual edition of the Russian Science Academy «World Religions».
Since 1991 in the Division of Almaty Eparchy there was established the Spiritual Academy, the training term in which was 2 years at the beginning, nowadays increased up to 4 years. They train priests and wardens, with a total of 50 daytime students. Annually 4-5 persons go to spiritual educational institutions of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia. A considerable number of priests study extramurally in the Spiritual Academy of Moscow. Since 1997 the branch of the Saint Tihonovsky Theological Institute has been functioning in Karaganda. In September 1998 in Almaty a 4 year theological missionary college was opened. Nowadays in many churches there are church parish schools where they teach Orthodoxy basics. Also there are Sabbath schools both for children and adults.
The restoration and building of churches, which was initiated by archbishop Nikolay, continue until now. It also became possible due to the improvement of material resources of orthodox cultural associations. The dynamics of growth within the sphere of orthodox churches is the following – in 1956 in Kazakhstan there were 55 parishes, by 2003 there were 230 parishes, by January 1st 2008 Russian Orthodox Church had 281 religious associations to which belong 257 objects of cult. In recent years there have been constructed many churches and temples, such as in Almaty – a temple of Christ the Savior, in Karaganda – Vedensky Cathedral, in Pavlodar – Annunciation Cathedral, in Ekibastuz – Seraphim-Iver Cathedral, in Taldykorgan – Johan-Theological Cathedral, in Ust Kamenogorsk – Saint-Pokrovsky Temple, in Kostanay – Constantine-Yelena Temple and Saint-Nikolai Temple in Satpaev, constructed by Kazakhmys Corporation. In June 2005 people celebrated the 150th anniversary of Constantine-Yelena Cathedral in Astana.
In the early 1990s three women’s and three men's monasteries – one in East Kazakhstan and two in Almaty oblasts (Serafimo-Feognotovsky man's deserts and deserts of Spassko-Silujanov) were opened in Akmolinsk, North Kazakhstan and West Kazakhstan oblasts . In 2009 in Astana the president of the Republic put a capsule on the site of a new Cathedral. In 2010 it is planned to finish the building of one of the greatest orthodox Temple in the region, the Temple of Ascension of Divine Mother. Churches are mostly crowded during the holidays of Christmas, Epiphany, Easter and Trinity.
In the late 1990s J.Trofimov wrote about penetration of a Russian Orthodox Church Abroad of Karlovatsky split who tried to extend their influence among Orthodox Christians in Kazakhstan. In Russia it has the parishes where it has been registered under the name «Russian Free Orthodox Church». In Almaty and Semipalatinsk there were groups of the believers adhering to the ROC Abroad. In 1995 they made an attempt to register Almaty Church and the community of ROC Abroad. Their registration was declined, as their charter contains political requirements of a discriminative nature, including the requirement which declares «the necessity to struggle against the godless power in Russia»  .
From June 20 till June 22nd 2007 the session of XIV General Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Orthodoxy Assembly took place in Astana. Prominent politicians, visitors from foreign countries and heads of religious associations gave lectures. As the results of the forum the participants adopted the resolution on holding the XV General Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Orthodoxy Assembly in 2008.
Celebration of the 100th anniversary of Voznesensky Cathedral in Almaty in 2007 became one of the most significant events for orthodox religious associations. 100 years ago Russians and Kazakhs, together with Kalmyks, Tatars and Ukrainians, took part in building of Voznesensky Cathedral. Andrey Zenkov, the regional engineer at that time, had been appointed responsible for implementing of all construction work. Undoubtedly, he played a considerable and bright role in the history of building the Cathedral. The construction work of the Cathedral finished in August 1907. Because of the will of local residents the Cathedral was devoted to the «Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ» . The Voznesensky Cathedral is the embodiment of the so-called Russian style on the new Asian borders of the Empire, and, perhaps, is the most remarkable display of this kind of architecture of that period. The similar example of well kept Russian architecture at the beginning of the 20th century is difficult to find in the territory of Central Asia. The Voznesensky Cathedral can be compared to the Temple of the Ascension in Kolomna which is near Moscow. Fine architectural forms, stylistic features, surprising design for that time make the Saint Voznesensky Cathedral a unique monument of architecture in the late ÕIX and early XX century far outside the Republic of Kazakhstan .
In the early 1990s the process of transfer of temples-monuments to churches began in Russia, and the Almaty Eparchy had also begun working in this direction. At government level the question of restoration of the original form and functions of the Cathedral was brought up. In 1994 it was decided that the building should function as a museum. The government allocated budgetary funds for the initial work for preparation of the central hall and an altar for carrying out of divine services. And a year later, on April 8th 1995 by the decision of the President of the Republic Nursultan Nazarbayev the Cathedral was officially transferred in legally termless and gratuitous use of Almaty and Semipalatinsk Eparchy.
The ROC keeps contacts with foreign orthodox churches. In September 2007 Metropolitan Varnensky and Velikopreslavsky of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church Cyril visited Kazakhstan. During his visit the metropolitan visited orthodox parishes of Astana and Almaty and gave a lecture on «Short history of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church» in the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation in Astana.
In November 2007 in Pavlodar at the initiative of the director of Blagoveshchenskij Cathedral Amfilok the first exhibition of ancient copper icons of the XVI-XX centuries of Kazakhstan took place in a local historical and regional-study museum. Also in November 2007 in another Kazakhstan city – Petropavlovsk, meetings and conversations with Andrey Kuraev, the well known orthodox missionary, professor of Moscow Spiritual Academy were organized.
Charity is one of the main priorities of the Russian Orthodox Church. Spiritual and educational work, and also financial help, is provided to orphanages, hospitals, and homes for the disabled and elderly. Charity weeks are devoted to the celebration of Christmas and Easter. Additionally, educational activities are held on the feast day of Saints Cyril and Methodius, the well known founders of Slavic script.
The orthodox charitable fund “Vedi”, founded by the International Fund of Slavic Script and Culture, is located in Almaty. The fund is not a structural division of the ROC of Kazakhstan. The fund’s activities are primarily cultural and educational studies, regional history studies, and publishing. The charitable fund “Svetoch” conducts training courses for Kazakh applicants to enter universities in the Russian cities of Novosibirsk and Tomsk.
In the early 1990s only one Orthodox newspaper was issued in the Republic, the “Orthodoxy Light in Kazakhstan”, with a circulation of 2000 copies. Currently, in addition to the “Orthodoxy Light in Kazakhstan”, the newspapers “Vedi” and “Astanajsky Orthodox Bulletin” are published monthly.
On the whole, the status of the Russian Orthodox Church in Kazakhstan is becoming more prominent.
The stability and tolerance of religious life in Kazakhstan society is ascribed, according to J.Trofimov, to successful interconfessional dialogue and well developed channels of social interaction. «Multiconfessionalism of Kazakhstan has a number of specific reasons. Among them, it is important to allocate the following: 1) the respectful attitude of Kazakh people to customs and beliefs of other people of the Republic; 2) the absence of religious fanaticism at the majority of Moslems of the Republic; 3) the specificity of historical formation of the population of Kazakhstan, especially during the last hundred years, which conditioned its multinational structure and 4) the aspiration of people of all nationalities in the Republic to keep their national origin, adhering to their own traditional religious ceremonialism» .
Islam and Orthodoxy in the physical landscape of the Kazakh land have a centuries-old history of coexistence. The peaceful historical coexistence of these two religions in the area is attributed to the fact that they are less orthodox than the Orthodox Church in Russia or Islam in the Middle East .
Orthodoxy and Islam (Sunnism of Khanafit mazhab) in Kazakhstan are known for their moderate conservatism. Both Orthodoxy and Islam in the doctrine of Khanafit School of Law in religious canons, and in light of the modern political situation are characterized by their tolerant relation to institutes of power and by the ability to find compromise with the state. Islam of Khanafit Mazhab is characterized by tolerance to dissenters, exercise of the common local right, and application in legal questions of free individual interpretation based on analogies (kiyas). In defining the place and the role of religion in a political system, namely in question on a correlation between secular and religious models of a state, these two confessions have never confronted the legitimate authority. Thus, the question of secularism of a state was never challenged by the representatives of these confessions, and never became an object of conflict between the clergy and the existing power. The followers of these faiths positively perceive the existing model of the secular state. Unlike various Christian and Islamic fundamentalists, as well as some fundamentalists in new religions, these two large faiths, as a rule, do not represent any threat in relation with each other, in relation to other religions, or in the relation to the society and to the state. «Ethnic, historical, cultural and mental commonness of the Turkic and Slavic people in the extensive forest and steppe zone of Eurasia, with close and active intercultural contacts throughout a long time in historical context, undoubtedly, contributed to and still continue to secure the peaceful co-existence of these religions in the past and present» .
There are several common principles in Islam and Orthodox Christianity:
- There is no division of peoples into the “best and worst”, no statement of exclusivity of anybody by birth or sex;
- Both denominations do not claim to have a status of state religion, they recognize secularism and act with distinct patriotic positions;
- Both religions underscore their supranational character, excluding any superiority of one nation over another;
- These denominations argue that peoples have every right to their national and cultural identity;
- Both confessions can effectively cooperate with each other in questions of peacemaking in the country and in a larger scale, preventing interconfessional and ethnic conflicts between Muslims and Orthodox Christians, in providing joint charitable assistance to the victims of ethnic conflicts;
- Islam and Russian Orthodoxy can jointly carry out activities to preserve the cultural heritage of the Orthodox and Muslim peoples, including mutual assistance in restoration and protection of religious monuments of history and culture, in construction of places of worship of both religions;
- Both faiths react negatively to the dissemination of pseudo religious organizations and destructive sects, and advocate for countering and neutralizing the negative effects of their activities.
The important role in maintenance of interconfessional harmony and stability in Kazakhstani society belongs to the state.
Muslim and Orthodox religious holidays of Kurban ayt and Christmas are declared by the state as holidays in Kazakhstan.
In 2002, soon after the terrorist act of September 11th, Kazakhstan created an initiative and called Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. The first forum took place in 2003. Congresses of Religions also «become an organic and effective part of a global dialogue between religions of the modern world». Such actions play «a significant role, promoting mutual understanding between spiritual leaders, religions and people» .
Before the opening of the Second Congress in Astana in 2006 the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation was constructed, which became the symbolical spiritual centre of the country. Various conferences and forums are regularly conducted in the Palace. At the initiative of the President of Kazakhstan the International Centre of Cultures and Religions was established in the capital city of Astana, which began its work in the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. One of the goals of the Center is to become «an intellectual laboratory of peace, consent and justice» under whose aegis it is necessary «to expand the dialogue of representatives of different cultures and religions». One of the important tasks of the Center is to coordinate joint activity of representatives from secular and religious mass-media and youth associations, and scientific and creative intelligentsia . In July 2009, the 3rd Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions took place in Astana.
According to the Constitution of 1995, the Republic of Kazakhstan is a secular state. Among Central Asian states Kazakhstan is the only republic where no official status is given to Islam as to the largest faith in the Republic.
Thus, the religious balance of interests of various faiths in the Republic of Kazakhstan has been conditioned by variety of factors of historical, cultural, social and political character. All of these factors have caused a certain religious balance between Orthodoxy and Islam in Kazakhstan. Each of these faiths has its own stable niche in the religious space of the country. This fact promoted the successful interconfessional dialogue and contributed to finding possible options for cooperation between the confessions. The interconfessional consent between the two large religions of Kazakhstan has become a factor of stability and tolerance for the entire varied religious life in the Republic of Kazakhstan.
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