By Ksenia Bondal
An elderly man prays in Almaty last November. [Vladimir Tretyakov]
ASTANA -- A new prize will generously reward anyone -- whether Kazakhstani or foreign -- who promotes interfaith harmony and thereby fights extremist views.
The Laureate of Astana International Award for Interfaith Dialogue, which President Nursultan Nazarbayev established earlier in June, is meant to encourage religious figures and civil society activists to take up the fight against extremism.
"When some young people literally interpret religious teachings and texts of holy books, they thoughtlessly carry out the instructions of their foreign 'spiritual teachers', including those who are openly extremist," Bakytzhan Kulekeyev, acting chairman of the country's Committee for Religious Affairs, told Caravanserai.
"Adherents of this sort of life have started to force their views on the people around them," he said. "It reaches conflict level in families and in society."
Every three years, Kazakhstan's president will award $20,000 (6.3 million KZT) to a religious leader or civil society or political figure who makes a particularly valuable contribution to interfaith dialogue, according to a June 2 Nazarbayev decree, Zakon.kz reported June 8.
No individual may win more than once.
Zakon.kz did not report when the first such prize will be awarded.
Some Kazakhstani observers have suggestions on how to select a winner.
Those who fight terrorism by explaining Kazakh traditions and cultural traits should win the prize, Almaty theologian Murat Smagulov told Caravanserai. The prize could inspire people to be more tolerant and live in love and friendship, he said.
The general public should nominate candidates for the prize, he said.
"Religious communities know who befriends whom, how they communicate with each other, and how that influences the development of social peace and stability," he said.
The prize could go to those who have solved "specific problems in uniting members of different religions", said Shymkent resident Zaure Akhmetova.
"Fostering interfaith dialog is necessary because the world has become starkly divided into [rival] economic unions, between rich and poor, and between radicals and atheists," she told Caravanserai. "We need the tools to help us repair such estrangements."
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