«Reestablishing roots and learning to fly: Kazakh church planting between contextualization and globalization. by Dean Frederick Sieberhagen submitted ...»
The question is does this apply to all Kazakhs? In understanding the answer to this question we need to consider issues such as geographic location, social class, village versus urban, and fringe versus mainstream. These issues are best taken into account if we describe the Kazakhs in terms of three identities: Traditional, Modern, and Russified. Although this may seem simplistic in purely anthropological terms, I believe it will nevertheless help to inform the issue of church planting which is the main topic of this dissertation. This distinction also helps in understanding the context within which others have researched and written regarding what the Kazakhs believe and how church planting needs to take place.
After briefly describing each of these, I will describe some of the key elements that make up the Kazakh religion.
2.6 Traditional, Modern, and Russified Kazakhs Mahmood Monshipouri (2002:99) describes three types of Muslims that exist in the modern world. There are the conservatives that look to the past for the pure practice of Islam. They are not open to the ideas and influences from the West and see globalization as the way in which the West tries to dominate the rest of the world. Modernists are those that see Islam as something that can be revived and renewed by modernization. They are open to globalization but not secularization and as such will not pursue globalization where it runs the risk of breaking down their Islamic culture. Liberals are those that embrace globalization, insisting that Islam actively participate in order to have a legitimate say in a modern and changing world. They would even go so far as to say that Islam must adapt to internationally accepted rights and practices. Whilst these descriptions seem very appropriate when looking at Islam as a whole, we need to adjust them to the specific Kazakh context and so for the purposes of this study we will consider the categories of Traditional, Modern, and Russified Kazakhs.
2.6.1 Traditional Kazakhs Ancestral beliefs and practices are very important for the Traditional Kazakh. The ancestors were good Muslims and therefore the way that Kazakh ancestors lived and worshipped is the authority for how life and worship should occur today (Kenzheaxmetuli 2004:256).
Privratsky (2000:83) describes this ‘taza zhol’ (pure way of the ancestors) as the key to understanding the form of Islam that Kazakhs call their own. He explains how in Islam we have the ‘great’ and ‘little’ traditions, with the little tradition representing the local expression of the universal religion of Islam (:8). For Traditional Kazakhs then this little tradition is the way of the ancestors which becomes known and understood through what Privratsky calls collective memory. Collective memory is “a processing mechanism by means of which people reach back into their past, idealizing and criticizing it, and articulating a future for themselves” (:21). Those closest to the past and with the clearest memory are the elders within a family or village and it is to them that Traditional Kazakhs turn for guidance in religion. These elders are the ones who are more disciplined about keeping the orthodox pillars of the Islamic faith such as the fast and the daily prayers. But even more than this they also take the lead in practices such as memorial meals for the ancestor spirits and pilgrimages to the city of Turkestan as an alternative to Mecca. The elderly are much closer to joining with the ancestor spirits and so need to take the Muslim faith more seriously, and, when the elders practice Islam they gain a level of vicarious credibility for the whole family (:92, Khalid 2007:103).
If then it is left up to the elderly to demonstrate a commitment to Islam where does that leave the majority of Kazakhs? Are these Traditional Kazakhs practicing Muslims at all prior to retirement? Abdul El-Zein (1977:227) gives a compelling argument for the fact that a formal, universal Islam does not exist. It has no inherent meaning, but meaning comes about as it is practiced on a local level and this then makes all local expressions valid, even if this changes over time. Manz (1994:165) concurs by arguing that a people group’s religion needs to be studied in terms of that practiced by the common person. It is all good and well to study history and read the writings of intellectuals, but what does the person in the street believe? Schatz (2004:47) makes good application of this to the Kazakhs with the following analogy: “when does a red sock continually darned with green yarn become a green sock?”.
Regardless of what others may call it, for the person who bought it, it remains a red sock. The Kazakh expression of Islam has been darned with communism, secularism, shamanism, and various other ideas, and yet for the Traditional Kazakh it remains valid. If the common person in the street sees it as acceptable that a serious practice of Islam is left to the elderly, then this becomes valid in their local expression of religion. From an insider perspective then all Traditional Kazakhs can claim to be Muslims, whereas from an outside perspective, other than the elderly, Traditional Kazakhs do not seem to be Muslims when measured with the scale of practice.
Despite this emphasis on the local Kazakh expression of Islam, Traditional Kazakhs are also characterized by identification with the worldwide movement of Islam, and as Khalid (2007:22) explains they see saints as shrines as their link. Traditional Kazakhs then are proud of their own way of Islam, but also proud that from their insider perspective it finds a home within the greater Islamic tradition. Teachers and missionaries from the greater tradition are generally looked upon favorably as those who help to strengthen the Islamic faith amongst the Kazakhs, with the condition that the underlying motives are peace-loving and not violence-seeking.
Nurlan (2009, pers. interview, 15 September) shared how the Kazakh language is the first language for Traditional Kazakhs and many openly take pride in their fluency over against other Kazakhs who struggle with fluency and revert to Russian. The Russian/communist influence is seen as an unwelcome invasion by Traditional Kazakhs with the result that priority is given to all things Kazakh. With the central role that ancestors play, in the south it is common to find a Traditional Kazakh who is able to recite their forefathers to the seventh generation and they are highly critical of other Kazakhs who cannot do so.12 Bisenbaev (2008:111) explains that by remembering seven generations of ancestors, the Kazakh is able to keep the spirits of these ancestors alive.
2.6.2 Modern Kazakhs Benjamin Barber (2004:32) argues that most countries are or are moving towards a multicultural society and Kazakhstan is no exception. This is the daily life for a Modern Kazakh as they rub shoulders with many other people groups and cultures. The Modern Kazakh is a person who represents the ideals expressed by the Jadids and Alash Orda movement, specifically how to hold in balance an acknowledgement of tradition whilst at the same time pursuing modernization. The Laumulins demonstrate this in saying “The ancestral remnants of the Kazakhs should be sought in such customs as respect for one’s elders and an affinity with like-minded people” (2009:29), and then later Kazakhstan was very fortunate in that the foreign policy authority and other structures, responsible for national security, were peopled by a generation of specialists, Eurasion in spirit and patriotically-minded, who were enthusiasts for their cause, accepted an open view of their world and, most importantly were loyal to the interests of their country. (:36) Modern Kazakhs are proud of Kazakh traditions and usually speak both Kazakh and Russian well. They are supportive of almost all the practices of the Traditional Kazakhs, but are open to all the new ideas and developments that other cultures bring through globalization. They like to be characterized as progressive with a bent that looks forward to the future rather than backwards to the past. Zhanibek (2009, pers. interview, 2 February) explained how materialism is high on the agenda in the way life is lived and as such identification with Islam is more important than actively practicing its teachings. Modern Kazakhs would be offended by anyone doubting their identity as a Muslim even if their lives have very little to show for it.
On significant occasions such as births, weddings and deaths, they would take on a traditional Kazakh identity and this would provide convincing evidence that they really are good Muslims.
Even though the Modern Kazakh may appear secular, because of close family ties, they retain their Islamic identity. As Bill Musk (1995:45) points out, family for Muslim cultures is often what defines a person. The blood allegiance takes precedence over all other allegiances and with the strong ancestor emphasis this is especially true for Kazakhs. 13 A Modern Kazakh then would be willing to sacrifice some of the fruits of a modern lifestyle for the sake of family.
Geography and urbanization are significant in understanding the Modern Kazakh.
Daulet (2009, pers. interview, 1 August) says that the Modern Kazakh who has a family heritage in the northern areas closer to Russia are likely to have less distinction between their way of life and that of their elders in that the elders are not as traditional as those in the south.
The same is true for those whose families for generations have lived in the city. Urbanization tends to cause cultures to blend with each other and compromise some of their traditional beliefs and practices.
2.6.3 Russified Kazakhs Russified is a term that can be used of the Kazakhs that have been highly influenced by the Russian way of life. Daulet (2009, pers. interview, 1 August) lives in a Russified Northern city and shares that these Kazakhs have a very limited ability to read, speak, or write in the Kazakh language. Their spoken and chosen language is Russian and many feel threatened by the new emphasis on the Kazakh language. This has left them feeling like second-rate Kazakhs when it comes to language, and yet they can also exhibit a superior attitude in that they tend to be the strongest Russian speakers, which compared to the Kazakh language has a longer heritage and a greater status as a world language. Russian was the dominant language Alexandre Bennigsen (1984) describes how Central Asians have the three allegiances of tribal (extended family), national (Kazakh) and supranational (Islam). In the daily life of a Kazakh it is the tribal that dominates.
of the Soviet Union and a Kazakh’s level of education depended on their mastery of Russian.
Consequently, many Russified Kazakhs see themselves as intellectually superior to Kazakhs who do not have a good command of the Russian language. They take comfort in Abai’s (1995, Word Twenty Five) support for the Russian language and culture, for after all he is considered by most as the model Kazakh.
Zhenis (2009, pers. interview, 8 July) leads a Russian speaking Kazakh church and argues that Russified Kazakhs do not desire to become Russians, but rather borrow all that is good about Russian culture and by combining it with elements of Kazakh culture, result in a blend that for Russified Kazakhs is uniquely Kazakh. As English has become native to many Americans even though it began in England, so Russian can become native to Kazakhs even though its roots are in Russia. All of this also supports the idea that Kazakhstan should be on good terms with its large and powerful neighbor. Russified Kazakhs see much greater merit in an alliance with Russia as opposed to that with the more Islamic countries to the south. A good relationship with Russia would result in progress and development in Kazakhstan in the wake of that in Russia and also provide a strong ally in times of trouble.
Religion is not absent in the lives of Russified Kazakhs, but similar to Modern Kazakhs, they would like to keep it in the background and bring it out when needed. The Laumulins explain how for Russified Kazakhs, an emphasis on Islam means a return to old ways and an inferior system of education (2009:38). They would say they are Muslims by virtue of being born Kazakhs, but would practice their religion as a last resort. They would fear embarrassment if they were seen to be partaking in traditions that are primitive relics of an uneducated past, when modern science and education have superior options to offer.
2.7 Key elements of Kazakh Belief and Practice Understanding that emphasis will vary across the Traditonal/ Modern/ Russified spectrum, the key elements of Kazakh belief and practice must be examined. Observing as closely as possible to the stance of an insider, we look to Privratsky’s premise which helps to frame an
understanding of this section:
Like other world religions, Islam is more likely to be strengthened than weakened when it is contextualized in local forms and thought-processes.
Without this departure from positivist, doctrinal understandings of Islam, Islam in Kazakhstan cannot be understood or even properly identified.
(2000:272) If there are certain beliefs and practices that for Kazakhs makes Islam appropriate to them, whether they resemble orthodox Islam or not, then these must be carefully considered. As has been shown, Kazakhs attach great importance to saints and their shrines and so this needs to be examined. The involvement of the ancestors is key to understanding Kazakh belief and practice and so rituals such as remembrance meals for the dead and the importance of hospitality needs consideration. Ancestors are said to appear in dreams with an impact on normal life and so the importance of dreams must be looked at.
If Kazakh Islam is not seen as pure Islam then the impact of Shamanism, Tengrism, and healers needs to be evaluated. The evil eye as a negative presence seems to be very real for Kazakhs, and how they deal with it is a significant part of their religious expression.
Certain rites of passage are more than just a move from one stage of life to the next, but carry religious significance and so need close examination. The role the Quran plays in Kazakh religion must be looked at in order to not simply dismiss it as unimportant in that Kazakhs do not seem to read it. The idea of purity is significant for Kazakhs and as a result there are beliefs and practices that accompany it. Finally, there are special celebration days that carry religious significance.