AKTOBE, Kazakhstan -- Kazakhstani imams are teaming up with authorities to combat extremism.
The effort comes as two recent terrorist attacks shocked the country. Gunmen in Aktobe killed seven civilians and troops June 5, then in Almaty July 18, a radicalised lone gunman killed six people, including three police officers.
In addition, several hundred radicalised Kazakhstanis have reportedly joined insurgents in Syria and Iraq since 2011.
In early July, before the Almaty incident, the Spiritual Administration for the Muslims of Kazakhstan (DUMK) teamed up with the Aktobe Province Administration for Religious Affairs to step up training of imams about the dangers of extremist movements.
The measures are part of a 2013-2017 government programme to reduce the influence of radical Islam nationwide.
The need to prevent extremism
At a session of the DUMK Ulema Council in Almaty June 14, theologians and imams stressed the need to prevent extremism and to raise the public's religious literacy.
"The terror attacks in Aktobe affected all of us," Mukhan Ikhsanov, head of the DUMK Islamic studies department, said during the meeting.
To provide imams in Aktobe Province with in-depth training on combating extremism, DUMK is enlisting renowned theologians and imams to hold Skype seminars to discuss timely and important religious issues and to promote moderate Islamic values, Baurjan Yesmakhan, chief of the Aktobe Province Administration for Religious Affairs, said at a news conference July 5.
DUMK is partnering with Ansar, a government think tank in Aktobe city that was founded to advance the 2013-2017 government anti-extremism programme, to educate the public on religion.
They are publishing educational materials in Aktobe provincial and district media and have broadcast a number of TV programmes featuring theologians.
The public outreach adheres to the mission of the nationwide anti-extremism programme, which emphasises increasing tolerance and involving the public in preventing terrorism.
Consulting reliable sources on Islam
Extremism in Kazakhstan is both political and economic in nature, Nurmukhamma Iminov, the deputy chief imam of Almaty, said at a recent news conference.
Terrorists are hoping to destabilise Kazakhstan, he said.
"Although 70% of the country calls itself Muslim, we have no information on how many are radical," he said.
Some standardisation is required to bring deficient imams up to a more professional level, Abdulla Bakhadyr of Shymkent, a theologian and director of the NGO Nur-mura, told Caravanserai.
"If questions spring up about Islam itself ... not every imam can provide a detailed answer," he said, adding that religious training will be helpful for imams.
Almaty residents are benefiting from the efforts to promote a moderate Islam that cherishes life, rather than a violent distortion of the faith.
"No true Muslim who has simply glanced once through the Koran can take his own life or someone else's life," Almaty resident Diyar Muslimov told Caravanserai. "Muslims must learn about Islam from reliable sources and follow the Koran, sunnah and hadiths to protect themselves from the schemes of radicals."
"Jihad has nothing to do with waging war," Muslimov said. "It is the pinnacle of good deeds ... People who urge others to commit crimes and suicide [bombings] can't call themselves Muslims."