Kazakhstan fights extremism by upgrading religious education

By Ksenia Bondal

Nur-Mubarak University leaders and their colleagues from a Malaysian seminary in October 2015 in Almaty discuss education. [Ksenia Bondal]

Nur-Mubarak University leaders and their colleagues from a Malaysian seminary in October 2015 in Almaty discuss education. [Ksenia Bondal]

ASTANA -- Kazakhstani educators and security officials are looking for ways to defuse the radicalisation of some of their youth.

The concern has arisen as several hundred Kazakhstani militants fight in Syria and Iraq.

"People promoting destructive ideology to our students ... are a problem for Kazakhstan," Nurgali Bilisbekov, deputy chairman of the National Security Committee (KNB), said during a recent Astana roundtable, according to Dixinews and Kazpravda.

"[Security agencies] are clarifying what opportunities exist to receive a religious education at the Nur-Mubarak Egyptian University of Islamic Culture" in Almaty, he added, noting the fear that Kazakhstanis who study abroad might come back radicalised.

Nur-Mubarak is the "only university in Kazakhstan to train theologians, imams and Islamic scholars," Ali Almukhamedov, chief of the university's academic department, told Caravanserai in an interview.

Kazakhstani youth are vulnerable to radicalisation because too many of them "are ignorant in matters of faith ... and fall easily under extremists' influence", he said.

Traditional Islamic and Kazakh values

Nur-Mubarak fights that phenomenon by offering a traditional Islamic education "while taking into account the Kazakh people's mentality", he said.

As its name indicates, the university draws on Egypt's tradition of moderate Islamic scholarship. Recently, 13 scholars from Al-Azhar University in Cairo arrived in Almaty to teach at Nur-Mubarak.

The students at Nur-Mubarak "increasingly show an interest in working with ... literature in Arabic and with the history of Islam", Almukhamedov said. "The seniors take part in a national analytical group created by the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan [SAMK]."

That group's mission is "to prevent extremism and to promote traditional Islam among the public, in schools and in juvenile detention centres", he said.

The students at Nur-Mubarak show curiosity about true Islam, Serik Tajibayev, an instructor at the school on aqidah (religious creeds), told Caravanserai.

"People who represent [extremist] ideology do not recognise a secular state," he said. "They've been turned into zombies by their pseudo-sheikhs."

Extremists have the money to fund their noxious activities and to buy loyalty, he said, adding, "Imams can be very bright ... but they're not in a position to help those who need money."

Students support moderate thought

Students at Nur-Mubarak and elsewhere recognise the need for moderation.

Any Muslim "is obligated to remember the teaching 'do not kill' firmly in mind," freshman Chingiz Saduyev told Caravanserai. He intends to become an imam.

"Islam, above all, ... means peace," another freshman, Saltanat Utesin, told Caravanserai.

Female graduates of Nur-Mubarak "can teach in universities, seminaries and mosques and can teach English and Arabic", she said.

"They need to mete out the harshest sentences for promoting extremism," Askhat Niyazov, a sophomore attending Al-Farabi Kazakh National University in Almaty, told Caravanserai.

Niyazov recently attended a DUMK lecture about the spread of extremism among youth.

"It didn't even occur to me that guys a little older than I am can think about killing people and hide under the name of God," he said. "Someone with a healthy psyche can't do it."

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DUMK and all government peolpe are fighting with peacefull Islam, but not terroristic groups. For example, they prohibited performing prayers in governmental premises, buildings, universities, schools, prisons and etc. Now they are not allowing to wear hijab (to cover heads of girls / women) for schoolgirls. They are breaking and not respecting all human rights. Even though there are articles supporting religious views of people, upbringing of their children in KZ Constitution, but in reality no one cares the Constitution. They issue and apply the laws whatever they want. I am afraid that, very soon in Kazakhstan we will see same regime as in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Everybody is afraid to say their view, to protect himself. Even all companies require police clearance report, that includes all broken rules, violations, with no matter when they were conducted. It creates obstacles for finding the job. After seeing the report, no one gives you a job. Unfortunately our country becoming undemocratic day by day, which is very sad.