Terrorism

Kazakh clerics denounce Aktobe terrorist acts and conduct outreach

By Alexander Bogatik

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Kazakhstani Supreme Mufti Yerzhan kaji Malgajyuly (at head of table) June 9 in Aktau confers with imams and mullahs about radical movements. [Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan photo obtained by Alexander Bogatik]

ALMATY -- Kazakhstani clerics share their country's outrage at the June 5 terrorist atrocity in Aktobe.

The Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan (DUMK)'s Council of Ulema made that clear when it convened in Almaty June 14.

At the meeting, religious scholars and imams condemned the terrorists' attack on two gun stores and a military base in Aktobe, which occurred on the first day of Ramadan.

Reports differ on whether seven or eight Kazakhstani civilians and troops were killed. Security forces killed 18 attackers over the next few days and made nine arrests.

Participants at the ulema conference stressed the need to prevent extremism and to educate the public on religious matters.

"The terrorist attacks in Aktobe have touched all of us," Mukhan Isakhan, director of the Islamic studies department of the government's Committee for Religious Affairs, said during the meeting. "We need to continue raising Kazakhstanis' religious literacy."

The participants adopted a statement, which they sent to mass media.

"We ... resolutely condemn the terrorist attacks that occurred in Aktobe," the statement read. "The Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Unto Him) said, 'A true Muslim does not harm others in word or deed.'"

The statement included a call to all Kazakhstanis to make every effort to fight terrorism.

No justification for terrorism

Five days before the conference, on June 9, a national day of mourning for those slain in Aktobe, Kazakhstani Supreme Mufti Yerjan kaji Malgajyuly spoke at the central mosque in Aktau, Mangystau Province.

"Among us are religious fanatics," Malgajyuly said in his speech. "We must tell people about the danger arising from radical movements."

The terrorist attack in Aktobe was the first of its kind in Kazakhstan, Zaripbai Orazbayev, a member of the Council of Ulema, told Central Asia Online.

"There haven't been any conflicts over religion in the history of the Kazakh people," he told Central Asia Online. "The terrorist attacks in Aktobe were the work of ... brainwashed extremists."

The terrorists' acts had no relationship to Islam, he said.

Deputy Supreme Mufti Serik Oraz shared similar views during a June 10 Astana meeting of the Expert Club, a local discussion group.

He described the difficulty of de-programming extremists.

"They're like zombies," he told the club. "You tell them something. They look straight at you but don't grasp anything."

One theory held by authorities is that an "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) sheikh precipitated the Aktobe massacre by ordering extremists -- via social networking -- to commit attacks in their homelands, Oraz said.

"They listen to these leaders' messages from abroad, and the next day, they carry out their orders," he said of the terrorists.

Outreach to women

Kazakhstani clerics are educating young believers to reject extremism.

One such event took place in Astana June 8, a roundtable with female Muslims that DUMK organised.

The women at the meeting vigorously condemned the Aktobe terrorist attack. They announced the creation of a women's sector within DUMK to conduct outreach to other female Muslims.

"Radicals ... are very far from Islam," Tilegen Akbope Kanatkyzy, the director of the new women's sector, said during the roundtable. "We need to caution Kazakhstani women about avoiding such terrorist acts."

DUMK is reaching out to youth too. Five days later, on June 13 in Aktau, the chief imam of Mangystau Province, Smayyl Seyitbekov, conferred with college students about radicalism, true Islam and patriotism.

"As a result of our meeting ... 800 residents of Mangystau Province rejected their radical beliefs," Seyitbekov said afterward, according to media.

Outreach to youth

Extensive outreach work to defeat youth proselytisation by radicals is under way, Seyitbekov added.

Theologians and clerics in May in Kostanay Province founded an outreach group to protect youth. Similar groups, founded with DUMK help, are operating nationwide to advise schoolchildren and college students.

"I participated in a meeting that DUMK organised on righteous youth and the dangers of extremism," Aisulu Kublanova, 20, of Taraz, Zhambyl Province, told Central Asia Online. "Clerics, scholars and teachers talked to us like we were adults."

The presenters did not force their views on the attendees but simply described cults, extremists and extremist recruiting methods, Kublanova said.

"We've become more vigilant," she said. "We won't listen to those who use religion as a cover to tell us about things we shouldn't do ... like saying that religion orders us to take lives."

"After the meeting, a friend of mine recalled how an [extremist] proselytiser ... approached him on the street and spoke to him aggressively," Kublanova said. "We all have to be alert and be smarter than those who want to bring extremism and murder to our land."

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