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«Reestablishing roots and learning to fly: Kazakh church planting between contextualization and globalization. by Dean Frederick Sieberhagen submitted ...»

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As pointed out by Edward Schatz (2004), since their origins, genealogy has been foundational to the Kazakhs’ identity and beliefs. All Kazakhs trace their ancestral heritage to one of three tribes; the Great, Middle, and Small tribes (also referred to as clans or Zhuz) (Valikhanov 2010:151). These are said to have come from the three sons of the first Kazakh ruler, Alash, although his existence has not been proved as fact. Seit Kenzheaxmetuli (2004:76) explains how when asked, a Kazakh should proudly state their clan heritage and from this much can be understood about their geographic origins, their unique accent when speaking Kazakh, and specific cultural practices that are emphasized. The Laumulins (2009:69) explain how a priority for every Kazakh is to name their forefathers to the seventh Erengaip Omarov (2005) details a number of theories as to when the Kazakhs came into existence, some going back to the time before Christ. There is widespread agreement however that the Kazakh nation was distinct by 1500 AD.

generation, and to not be able to do so is a shame. So it becomes important to remember the previous ancestral beliefs and practices and how they shape the religious expression of the current generation.

Whilst some Kazakhs lived in cities and practiced a more orthodox mosque-based Islam, most Kazakhs were nomads and therefore had very little attachment to a mosque or seminary.

Privratsky (2000:56) points out that these nomads placed a higher importance on shrines and cemeteries which was a natural result of the emphasis on ancestors. This was given further validity by the presence of the Sufi saints traveling throughout Central Asia. These holy men did not condemn the Kazakhs’ practice of Islam, but rather gave it credibility as a more mystic expression of Islam. With the Kazakh identity firmly established, the end of the seventeenth century began a period of conflict with other nations and the consequences were so severe that their very existence was threatened (:54). Whatever the intention of the nations that sought to invade and control the Kazakhs, part of the package was the religion of the invading nation. Firstly, the Mongolian Jungars with their Buddhist beliefs managed to exterminate up to two thirds of the Kazakhs, and then the Russians with their Christian background over a long period of time oppressed and killed many Kazakhs (Gabdina et al, 2002:34). Significantly, this only strengthened the Kazakhs identity with Islam and their resistance to these other religions.

Andreas Kappeler (1994) describes how under Peter the Great and Katherine II, Russia embarked on an intensive course of modernization. Russia was being left behind by the other European countries in terms of modern progress and changes had to be made in order to catch up. There needed to be a stable and unified approach throughout the areas of Russian rule and the Muslim religion was seen as a hindrance to this. Thus began a period of Russia dominance that used a variety of methods to achieve its aims. Valikhanov (1985:181) details how Central Asia established trade relations with Russia and as a result came under the influence and control of Russia.

As the Russians gained control of the Central Asian steppe, they began to settle their own people and set up secular schools for the education of their children mostly to the exclusion of the Kazakhs. Michael Khodarkovsky describes how by the middle of the eighteenth century, the Russians considered the Kazakhs as inferior and uncivilized (Khodarkovsky cited in Brower and Lazzerini 1997:10). The challenge for the Russians was how to improve the culture and understanding of the Kazakhs and thereby make them more useful and manageable. This would also help Kazakhs to see the clear superiority of all things Russian and thereby accept the new situation. It was decided that Kazakhs and other Muslim people groups should be educated separately from Russians in their own Islamic schools and so both Tatar teachers from the North and Islamic teachers from the South were brought in to instruct the Kazakhs. The result was that the Kazakhs were strengthened in their Islamic beliefs, learning about the more orthodox teachings and practices, and in addition also became less accepting of Russian culture and rule (Filbert 1999:14, 47). This was not the outcome that the Russians had desired and so they tried to impose control over the religious establishment, but the result was that it merely went underground. There seems to be a lack of historical data to accurately describe how seriously Islamic the Kazakhs had become, but by the mid nineteenth century there were Kazakhs making pilgrimages to Mecca, poems and songs with Islamic themes, and Islamic practices relating to marriage, burial, circumcision, and the seclusion of women (Olcott 1995:104). In some cities Quran schools were established and in certain sections of society, the Russian authorities for a time allowed the influence of Sharia law in the courts (Khalid 2007:37).

A change of tactic by the Russians saw them trying to control the Kazakhs through conversion to Christianity. They used both coercion, through the threat of imprisonment and the destroying of mosques, and enticement, through the giving of money and possessions.

David Brower and Edward Lazzerini (1997) show how all of this made good sense on paper, but in practice the conversions were nominal with no credible evidence that the converts understood and practiced true Christianity. Contrary reports began to come in that the Kazakhs were in fact converting to a stronger form of Islam (Khodarkovsky 1999:8). The Russian authorities decided that their missionaries needed to change to a focus on the quality of conversions. There needed to be a more detailed assessment of how deeply the supposed coverts had embraced Christianity. Methods were used that called on converts to freely express their true conversion and this required that the missionaries employ serious teaching of what the Gospel meant before people converted. This new approach produced very disappointing results and it became clear that large scale conversions were not realistic.

Khodarkovsky (1999:7) shows how Central Asians used the pretension of conversion to Christianity to further their political ambitions.

Brower (1997:116) explains how the influence of the enlightenment in the nineteenth century caused the Russians to work with the Kazakhs under a new paradigm. No longer were the Central Asian cultures seen as negative in nature, but rather they were all in the process of becoming more civilized. The argument was that they were simply behind Russia in their stage of development and with the proper guidance would develop as they should.

Ethnic differences should be accepted and studied for a greater understanding. As before, the hope was that this approach would be more acceptable to the Kazakhs and so endear the Russian culture to them. Over time the Kazakhs would come to see the great benefits of becoming more ‘Russian’ in their culture and worldview. The belief in their own Russian culture and religion was so strong that they believed it could be put alongside any other and still be superior. Despite the inherent flaws in this new approach, it did have some success as evidenced in the writings of Abai Kunanbaev (1845 to 1904). In Word Twenty Nine he writes “One should learn to read and write Russian. The Russian language is a key to spiritual riches and knowledge, the arts and many other treasures “(Abai 1995:146).

Under this new approach, a distinction was made between the private religious life of Kazakhs and the public Islamic institutions. Any potential opposition was seen as coming from the public institutions and so they needed to be carefully governed and controlled. A Kazakh’s private religious life however was seen as insignificant and could be ignored.

With the increased access to education and a broadening of their worldview, there arose a group of Kazakh intellectuals such as Abai and Valikhanov who began to advocate the future success of the Kazakhs as lying in the areas of education and a modern worldview.

They did not seek to create a secular Kazakh society but one in which the Muslim faith, Kazakh culture and education could be blended together. However, as Valikhanov (2009:140) explains, orthodox Islam had not fully entered the Kazakh blood and so if followed too seriously it would divide the Kazakh nation into those who decide to become stricter Muslims and those who remain as folk Muslims. Peter Rottier (2003:75) shows how this Kazakh intelligentsia held to the linear development of nations where a country such a Kazakhstan needed to move forward from a nomadic tradition to that of one based on settlements which then allowed for more advancement. So, this was not something anti-Kazakh but rather the next step in developing the great Kazakh nation.

Kazakh became a literary language by the 1860s and gave rise to more and more intellectuals who began writing about the Kazakh way of life and often criticized the influence of the Russian rulers (Olcott 1995:108). Many of these writers strongly promoted the cause of Islam as a uniting force for the Kazakhs against Russian rule and as a means to survive the desperate times facing those on the steppe due to famine and land seizures.

2.2 The Jadid Movement Jadidism describes a modernist movement that had as its goal the cultural and educational reform of the Islamic faith in Central Asia (Laumulins 2009:18, Khalid 2007:41). The term Jadid is Persian in origin and means ‘new method’. The movement began in the late nineteenth century through the influence of Central Asian intellectuals and was seen by Russia as a negative influence set on making Central Asians more Islamic. Olcott (1995:110) describes how a conflict arose between the secular educational system proposed by Russia and that of the Jadids which was religious. The Russians tried to take over control of all Muslims schools and thereby use modern education as a means of breaking down Islam. This played into the Jadids’ hands as they began to develop a compromise that combined the Muslim faith with a modern, organized education. The results alarmed the Russians as they witnessed schools that were not producing the russified Central Asians they hoped for, but rather began to give intellectual validation to a separate Islamic identity. Consequently there arose the unlikely alliance between the Russian rulers and the conservative Muslim leaders who both sought to oppose the Jadids. The conservative Muslim leaders were opposed to the modernist ideas of the Jadids especially the inclusion of any kind of secular education.

The Jadids were concerned with the risk of the Islamic culture being left behind and then ultimately disappearing in a modern, developing world (Adeeb Khalid 2000:138). In Word Twenty Five Abai (1995) addresses this concern by extoling the value of education and encouraging Kazakhs to learn as much as possible from others. Rather than work against the controlling presence of the Russians, the Jadids sought to use it as a means of bringing Central Asians up to date in the modern world (Laumulins, 2009:18). Ignorance as a result of the lack of a modern education was the great issue to be dealt with. They attributed health, economic, moral and other problems to this issue. They held that knowledge enables a culture to distinguish between good and evil and so avoid corruption and the breakdown of society.

This echoes much of Abai’s writings. Holding onto specific cultural forms and practices was far less important than the benefits of modern progress and education. The blessing of modern development and progress was seen as god’s gift for all people and so could be embraced by the Central Asians without having to fear the loss of their ethnic cultural identity. Under their leader Ismail Gasprinsky (1851 to 1914) the Jadids had far reaching aspirations which can be summarized by his statement “I believe that sooner or later the Muslims, educated by Russia, will become the intellectual leaders in the development and civilization of the rest of the Islamic world” (Mark Batunsky 1994:218). As idealistic as this seems, it would have been interesting to see its development had it not been for the communist revolution. How effective the Jadid movement was amongst the Kazaks needs to be judged in the light of the Alash Orda movement.

2.3 The Alash Orda Movement Gulnar Kendirbay (1997:487) shows how the years of Russian influence led to two groups of intellectuals that sought to lead the Kazakhs into the future. There were those who advocated a return to the traditional nomadic way of life with a strong emphasis on Islam. These were known as the writers and poets of ‘Zar Zhaman’ (Time of Trouble). The second group consisted of the modernizers and their leader was the Kazakh intellectual Akmet Baitursynov (1873 to 1937). He and other leaders sought to awaken the Kazakhs to their significance as a distinct and valid ethnic people group. Azamat Sarsembayev (1999:323) points out how the three main elements to this were a renewed interest in Islam, identification with a Turkic heritage, and an emphasis on the clan-tribal history. They used the publication of newspapers, books, and magazines to get their ideas out and also promoted organized forums for the discussion of their ideas. Baitursynov and other leaders were often arrested and at various times publications were banned by the Russian authorities (Mambet Koigeldiev 2007:176).

Koigeldiev describes how these Kazakh intellectuals had no faith in the Russian representative system as providing Kazakhs with a means of protecting their own rights and


Progressive forces in Kazakh society, first and foremost the emerging national intelligentsia,understood perfectly well the sinister implications of colonial dependency and saw as a way out of the situation the reinstatement of national statehood. (:157) The uprisings and resultant backlash by the Russians that this movement provoked caused great hardship for many Kazakhs and they found themselves facing famine and a Russian rule that seemed bent on their extermination. As all this was developing, Russia and its territories experienced dramatic change with the overthrow of the Tsarist rule and what appeared to be new opportunities for freedom. The Kazakh leaders seized upon this opportunity and began to advocate for an All-Kazakh Congress which took place in July of 1917 (:157). Out of this congress the Alash political party was proposed and its leaders began to advocate for Kazakh autonomy within a Russian federation. It also favored a separation of religion from the state.

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