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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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The rise of Soviet rule prevented the formal founding of the party but its ideas and the issues it aroused were carried forward by the Alash Orda movement. Its leaders negotiated at various times with the Soviet leaders and were both encouraged and disappointed. Ultimately, the Soviet authorities saw the movement as having a destructive influence on the spread of Soviet philosophy and under Stalin’s purges in the 1930s, the movement collapsed and its leaders were executed. As with the Jadids, this movement may have had lasting success had it not been for communism.

Koigeldiev (2007:159) shows how the Kazakh cultural identity prior to communism seemed to exist as a paradox. As described, there was much about them that seemed Russian and from all appearances they were content with this situation and its promises of progress.

And yet the years of interaction with the Russians had caused them to become more committed to the Islamic basis of their religion. This does seem to suggest that the Muslim identity (even if not practiced) is so essential to Kazakh identity that they are willing to compromise and change in all areas but this. In a later chapter we will discuss the implications of this for the growth of evangelical Christianity amongst the Kazakhs.

2.4 Kazakh Religion under Communism With Stalin’s rise to power and the lack of tolerance for any other expressions of allegiance other than to the Communist ideal, the Kazakhs’ identity with Islam came under serious threat. This threat was expressed through two initiatives (Enders Wimbush 1985:72). Firstly, there would be the complete breakdown of all of the Islamic institutions. Secondly, there would be the promotion of a new Soviet identity to replace the previous Islamic one. The Russian culture and language was promoted to the exclusion of all things Kazakh. Wimbush argues that the Soviets greatly underestimated the strong identification that a nation has with Islam. Being a Muslim is ultimately what defines you, whether you want to or are able to practice your faith or not. He says “One is born a Muslim; unlike the Christian, he is not ‘baptized’ into the church. To be Muslim is a fact of existence, not a choice of affiliation. To cease to be Muslim, logically one must cease to exist” (:75). So, communism did not do away with the Kazakhs’ Muslim identity, but rather superimposed itself on top of it. Dilip Hiro (1994:110) describes Kazakh religion during communism as moving from doctrinal expression to ritual practice within the home and family. Rites of passage such as birth, circumcision, marriage, and death retained their religious character and were mostly overlooked by the communist rulers. In fact, even amongst these rulers were Kazakhs who participated in family-based religious practices. Tazmini agrees and says that Islam in the Soviet era was ‘de-intellectualized’ and left to live on in the form of ritual and tradition (2001:67).

As the Laumulins (2009:22) point out, the Soviet attack on the Kazakh culture and religion did alter the worldview of many Kazakhs and many did assimilate a Russian way of doing things into their lives.9 The extent to which this happened was not consistent and varied according to factors such as which part of the country a person lived in and whether they were from the city or the village. Even if the Kazakhs maintained their Muslim identity and cultural practices, the Laumulins (2009) show that the atheism that came along with communism did much harm to the doctrines of Islam so that succeeding generations became mostly ignorant of the teachings of Islam as described in the Quran.

Under Khrushchev the Kazakhs found relief from Stalin’s aggression but not much else to help them in their desire to openly practice their religion (Michael Rywkin 1987:27).

Under Brezhnev however they found a leader who had some personal background in Kazakhstan and his attitude seemed much more accommodating. Although Kazakhs still lived in a communist environment as long as they showed themselves to be good Soviets, they were able to express their religion within limits. Rywkin writing in the decade prior to the fall of communism says “Total denial of their Islamic heritage is practically unheard of among Soviet Muslims” (:32). Rywkin points out that the modernizing influence of communism on the Kazakhs changed their Islamic worldview so that they no longer practiced polygamy, most women discarded their veils, and the consumption of alcohol increased.

Valikhanov (2009:140) and Privratsky (2000:281) use this background to help us understand why Kazakhs oppose any extreme or fanatical expressions of Islam. Under communism religion was shown to be against modern scientific progress, and thereby against a more developed and civilized society, and for many Kazakhs this made a lot of sense. As Filbert (1999:21) agrees and sees significant effects still lingering years after communism.

the Kazakhs have tried to re-establish their Islamic identity in a post-Soviet society, they are largely resistant to Muslims from outside trying to impose other forms of Islam on them. A good question to ask is in this new, open Kazakhstan, is orthodox Islam gaining ground so that in the future Kazakhs will better harmonize with their more Islamic brothers to the South?

2.5 Kazakh Religion Post-Communism The Laumulins (2009:26) and Ashirbek Muminov (2007:249) explain how the fall of communism brought Kazakhstan into contact with the wider world of Islam and expectations were that Kazakhstan would see itself as part of the broader movement. This also introduced new streams of Islam into Central Asia so that the Kazakhs had to deal with new religious philosophies within their traditional Islamic worldview. Cengiz Surucu (2002:393) shows how the collapse of the Soviet communal structures caused Kazaks to withdraw to their ethnic and tribal connections as both a means of survival and of coping with all the new ideas being thrown at them. At the same time there began to emerge a market economy that promised advancement for the individual as they worked with others outside of the tribe or clan. Surucu believes this has caused an identity crisis for most Kazakhs and along with Schatz (2004) would argue that there is now in place a clan competition for the control of national resources and the profits that flow from them. At the center of all of this is a government controlled by its president Nursultan Nazarbaev and his strong tribe/clan connections.

2.5.1 The Nazarbaev Era The end of communism saw a period of political instability and unrest, but when all was said and done, the leadership of the country lay strongly in the hands of the current president, Nursultan Nazarbaev. As an outsider looking in, Filbert points out that as a shrewd politician, he gave credence to the revival of Islam amongst the Kazakhs (1999:31). 10 The way he orchestrated this enabled him to keep control of its development and in particular to ensure that it was free from any radical influence. In 1990, he established a separate Muftiate for Kazakhstan and thereby reduced the fundamentalist influence of Kazakhstan’s more radical neighbors (Ghonchen Tazmini 2001:71). Tazmini explains how the first mufti, Ratbek Nisanbaev supported Nazarbaev’s view that there should be no Islamic political parties as these would have a negative effect on the harmony between the many ethnic groups in Kazakhstan. In addition, a Council for Religious Affairs was established to guarantee religious freedom and ensure that religious institutions stayed in check.

Beatrice Manz (1994:177) argues that Islam for Nazarbaev and his government leaders is merely a means to achieve the end of political power and economic prosperity.

Both of these are better attained if the Nazarbaev government seems to be pro Islam.

Compared to the other former Soviet countries of Central Asia and because of the multiethnic makeup of the population, Nazarbaev has allowed significant freedom of religion, even to Christians. This does however seem to change from year to year depending on the current political climate. Kazakhstan is still in a fragile stage of development as an independent country and Nazarbaev will oppose any religious influence that threatens this. Radical Islam represented by the modern Jihad movements does not seem to be native to Kazakhstan, but as explained by Ahmed Rashid (2002:10) it is usually imported from Kazakhstan’s more radical Richard Eaton (2001:107) describes 4 ways in which a people group converts to Islam. Through coercion, for political gain, for social liberation, and by reforming religious beliefs so that they conform to Islam. The Kazakh context post communism seems to be the latter three in combination.

neighbors. With a Sufi and Jadid-like background, the Islam of Kazakhstan seems more tolerant and peace-loving. Within this situation of freedom of religion and a favorable disposition towards Islam there is some evidence of an orthodox Islamic revival.

2.5.2 Orthodox Islamic Revival The revival of orthodox Islam amongst the Kazakhs needs to be evaluated on two levels. The reason for this is that communism did away with the teachings of Islam leaving most Kazakhs ignorant of what the Quran required. Firstly therefore, an orthodox Islamic revival must be evaluated at the knowledge level to see how Kazakhs are engaged in the study of Islamic norms and values and how they apply to the creation of an orthodox Islamic community. A second aspect of evaluation must take place at the level of practice, where any visible changes to religious practice can be observed, such as adherence to the five pillars and a mosque-based worship. Under communism, the private practice of Islam was tolerated but it was more cultural than orthodox, and so with new freedom is there a turning to more orthodox practices? A Knowledge Revival Ayshegul Aydingun explains “People in Kazakhstan have witnessed a striking competition among Muslim countries including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Pakistan, which are attempting to introduce their interpretation of Islam” (2007:1). She goes on to describe how there have been the two diverging influences where Turkey has sought a moderate influence in line with a modernizing society and on the other hand Saudi Arabia has sought a more radical influence in line with Sharia law.11 At this more extreme end is an attempt to shift the Kazakh paradigm from a separation of religion and state to one that sees all things as Islamic.

The success of this seems to reflect a phenomenon in many other cultures, namely, that when a belief system is in the minority its intensity and development intensifies as a means of defense against the ruling majority. Once a religion becomes that of the majority, there is no longer a need to hold on to it as intensely. As the Kazakh majority now matures, is this intensity still growing amongst the general population? Now that the Kazakhs no longer have the communist threat against their religion, have they lost the desire to pursue it as intensely?

The answers to these questions are not simple; however two specific attitudes are evident. Firstly, as argued consistently by the Laumulins (2009), the average person in the street is opposed to any radical religious influence. Their attitude would rather be to live and let live, to accommodate on a religious level and co-operate on other levels. A second, minority attitude would be a reaction to outside non- or even anti- Islamic influences. Khalid (2007:116) describes the renewed interest in Islam after communism and whilst the general population remains at the interest level, there are the minority few who seek to pursue a purer Islam that is not as influenced by outsiders.

Abai (1995: Word One, Two, Three, Five, Eleven, Sixteen) throughout his Book of Words laments the negative image people have when they think of Kazakhs, much due to their own attitudes and activities. Do the signs of a religious revival amongst the Kazakhs have to do with the need for a positive national image? No-one wants to be identified as a ‘loser’ and so many Kazakhs embrace their identity as Muslims more closely as a substitute for the failed Soviet identity (Aydingun 2007:70). They would say that they have always Yuri Bregel (1991) explains how Central Asia has historically been a significant frontier region for Turks. As a result the Turks have had a strong influence in seeing a consistent Sunni expression of Islam. Somewhat undermining this was the Sufi influence of saints such as Yasawi. Yasawi was a Sufi saint born and raised in Central Asia who came to be honored as the one who brought Islam to the Kazakhs. The Sufi emphasis on mysticism and the importance of shrines will be expanded on later, but suffice to say that through Yasawi and other Sufi saints this did seem to dilute the more doctrinal tradition of Sunni Islam.

been part of the Muslim tradition and that their commitment to communism was largely surface for the purposes of survival. Kazakhs echo Rashid (2002) and propose that there are two roads in Islam, the road of violence and that of peace. They do not want to be identified with the one of violence but rather that of peace where we can all work together and leave matters of religion in the background. Tazmini (2001:70) suggests that Kazakh Islam could become more radical as a protest against the ruling regime if this regime becomes more oppressive and negligent in meeting people’s needs. The Nazarbaev regime however seems to be very shrewd in balancing its power with an improvement in the general lifestyle of most Kazakhs as well as proposing a vision of future growth and prosperity (Nazarbaev 2010:3). A Practice Revival Are there some clear outward signs of revival? The rapid construction of mosques has been made possible by the funding of countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia (Khalid 2007:119, Cummings 2005:88). The practice of some of the five pillars, such as pilgrimage to Mecca and Ramadan (the period of fasting), have increased (Akzhol 2009, pers. interview, 24 March).

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