Kazakhstan seeks to restrict pursuit of religious education abroad

By Arman Kaliyev


Kazakh youth are coming out of the Almaty Baiken Mosque in August. The Kazakh Ministry of Religious Affairs and Civil Society is examining the possibility of prohibiting Kazakh citizens from obtaining a spiritual education in foreign countries. [Arman Kaliyev]

ASTANA -- The Kazakhstani Ministry of Religious Affairs and Civil Society, according to Bakhytjan Kulekeyev, an adviser to Minister Nurlan Yermekbayev, is drafting a bill to restrict the possibility of going abroad for a religious education. The ministry hopes to see the bill become law by end of 2017.

Ministry officials say they are working out the bill with outside consultants.

Ideas under consideration include prohibiting Kazakhstanis from going abroad for religious education unless they have already obtained a bachelor's degree or more in Kazakhstan. Should that restriction take effect, the ministry also plans to limit those with permission to attending only foreign universities that Kazakhstan officially recognises.

Kulekeyev, speaking at a recent news conference in Astana that Caravanserai attended, gave no further details about the impending efforts to set educational restrictions.

Parents urged not to send children abroad

Kulekeyev advised parents to think it over thoroughly before sending their children to study abroad in Arab countries.

"Young people who travel abroad for a religious education fall under the sway of ideologues from radical movements," stated Kulekeyev July 27, commenting on the recent arrest by Egyptian law enforcement agencies of six Kazakhstani students, whom Egypt expelled. Egypt did not disclose its the reason for arresting the six, but hundreds of Kazakhstanis who studied abroad in past years have ended up joining insurgencies in Syria and Iraq.

About 300 Kazakhstani citizens are studying abroad in religious universities, mainly in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, said Kulekeyev.

"Some of these people, after awareness-raising work that we performed with them, have come back," he said.

Kazakhstan has its own educational institutions, among them Nur-Mubarak Kazakh-Egyptian Islamic University in Almaty and a network of seminaries around the country, Kulekeyev said.

"Besides that, why not think about getting another education that will provide you with a profession and will let you earn money afterwards?" he asked rhetorically.

DUMK supports the initiative

The Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan (DUMK) has announced that it will not hire graduates of foreign religious universities without prior approval by DUMK leadership.

Restrictions are necessary, agrees an independent association, the Union of Muslims of Kazakhstan.

"I think that we cannot do without prohibitions in the fight against extremism," Murat Telibekov, chief of the Union of Muslims of Kazakhstan, told Caravanserai.

During the past few years, problems posed by extremism and the ability of destructive movements to influence Kazakhstan's rising generation are becoming more urgent, say observers.

Terrorist attacks committed in Kazakhstan by radicalised young citizens bear testimony to this danger.

The most recent such incident occurred in Almaty July 18, 2016. Ruslan Kulekbayev, a 26-year-old native of Kyzylorda Province, attacked a police station and killed nine current or retired law enforcement personnel. He murdered a woman the day before. Kulekbayev received a death sentence last November and is awaiting execution.

In part 2 on Tuesday (August 15), Caravanserai will discuss why many youths prefer to study abroad.

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This is wrong. This law will only set restrictions on those following traditional Islam. And those who follow "non-traditional" Islam study unofficially anyway. This is yet another law that is just harmful.