Kazakh imams learn to battle extremism

By Alexander Bogatik

Kazakhstani elders attend an anti-extremism forum in Ust-Kamenogorsk August 25. [Khalifa Altai Mosque photo obtained by Alexander Bogatik]

Kazakhstani elders attend an anti-extremism forum in Ust-Kamenogorsk August 25. [Khalifa Altai Mosque photo obtained by Alexander Bogatik]

ASTANA -- Imams across Kazakhstan are participating in seminars on fighting extremist ideology.

"Ust-Kamenogorsk hosted a seminar August 26 for imams," the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan (DUMK) said in a recent statement. "The goal of the seminar was to provide imams with necessary information to carry out preventive work against terrorism and learn how to fight extremism."

Superior knowledge makes imams persuasive

"The Khalifa Altai Mosque [in Ust-Kamenogorsk] and the [DUMK] office for East Kazakhstan Province ... organised the event in Ust-Kamenogorsk," a source at DUMK told Caravanserai. "Imams in the province from rural and urban mosques participated."

Besides imams, representatives from the provincial DUMK office, religious scholars, and historians took part in the event. All of the participants received certificates.

"Young people are exposed to destructive influence from radicals, receiving information over the internet and from dubious preachers," a source at the Mangystau Province Central Mosque in Aktau told Caravanserai. "They need religious information from competently trained imams."

Similar imam-training events are happening in every Kazakhstani province, as the country tries to end the exodus of radicalised citizens -- several hundred since 2011 -- to Syria and Iraq.

One seminar took place in Pavlodar August 22, organised by DUMK. Lecturers spoke about ways to prevent "the spread of destructive ideas and radical movements".

Imams, DUMK officials and government officials responsible for religious issues attended the seminar at Pavlodar Pedagogical College. Shymkent-based theologian Erkebulan Karakulov led the event and addressed the participants about ways to inculcate the public against extremism and to work with citizens of different ages.

Imams to warn public

Mosque imams intend to apply their knowledge in educating the public. They are participating in educational groups throughout the provinces already, according to the Khalifa Altai Mosque press office.

In early August, a local educational group visited Katonkaragay District, East Kazakhstan Province. Six imams with outreach training described the dangers of extremist and phony religious groups to their listeners.

Co-operating with government

Clerics and government officials are working together on this matter and on efforts to educate youth.

The Karaganda Province Youth Policy Department and the DUMK Department of Youth Affairs signed a memorandum of co-operation in Karaganda July 22. They committed to holding lectures and conferences for youth on resisting radical ideologies.

In other developments, journalists, scholars, politicians and youth leaders in August in Ust-Kamenogorsk formed a club called "Samruk" for intellectual discussions. Topics will include extremism.

Similar initiatives between the government and clerics are under way in every province.

"I attended such outreach meetings both a few years ago and more recently," Shymkent resident Berik Kemerbayev told Caravanserai. "The progress they've made is obvious."

"The lecturers are better prepared," he said. "The imams and mullahs understood they shouldn't talk about the particularities of religious rituals .. They warn about the true intentions of terrorists and extremists."

The listeners "describe what they heard to their families and friends", he said.

Elders denounce extremism

In Central Asian societies, elders -- respected senior citizens -- can be a valuable resource in the fight against extremism, officials recognise.

The first anti-extremism Elders' Forum in Kazakhstan took place in Ust-Kamenogorsk August 25.

That forum took place "on the instruction of Supreme Mufti ... Yerjan kaji Mayamerov," DUMK said in a statement. The forum's theme was "The role of elders in instilling national [Kazakh traditional] and spiritual values in a secular society."

Participants discussed ways to dissuade the rising generation from joining extremist groups, DUMK said. They condemned all forms of extremism and terrorism.

Among the participants were 174 elders from East Kazakhstan Province, who included imams, honoured residents of the province, cultural figures and community leaders.

"The topic of reviving the institution of elders [as a source of social guidance] is arising," Ust-Kamenogorsk resident Bakhtiyar Jakhayev, 62, told Caravanserai. "Kazakhs revered the elderly and listened to them for centuries."

"Now the young have broken away from the older generation ... and suffer disaster in the form of extremism and terrorism," he said. "Extremists ... are fighting all of humanity."

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The imams will get paid for this work. They do work for the people, and just like any RK (Republic of Kazakhstan) working citizen they should get paid a certain salary. They also have families, kids, etc.