ASTANA -- As Kazakhstani officials urge parents to keep their children out of foreign religious universities that might be teaching extremism, analysts are mulling reasons why some young citizens are so eager to study abroad.
Local clerics who have lost credibility represent a major reason for young Kazakhstanis to seek religious education abroad, said Murat Telibekov, chief of the Almaty-based organisation Union of Muslims of Kazakhstan.
"Unfortunately, corruption and a lack of principles have become the calling card for many imams," he told Caravanserai. "If we do not want our youth to fall under the influence of outside sources of authority, then we need to nurture our own leaders."
Another incentive to venture abroad is "tough socio-economic conditions in Central Asia", he added.
Shaping a national model of Islam would be an effective remedy, he suggested.
It is necessary to solve economic problems quickly, provide jobs and housing for millions of citizens, make education accessible and root out judicial and police corruption, said Telibekov.
Potential reverse effect
At the same time, some religious Kazakhstanis with orthodox views do not support efforts by the government to make it harder for Kazakhstanis to enrol in foreign religious universities.
The authorities' planned policy will not bring any benefit but rather could end up reinforcing radical inclinations felt by those who call themselves followers of "pure Islam", warned a Caravanserai source who called himself a Salafist and requested anonymity.
"Very few who receive an education abroad come back with radical ideas," he told Caravanserai. "Most religious believers in Kazakhstan who are inclined to act aggressively did not study abroad. They scoop [false] information from the internet and start down the wrong path."
Going abroad for Islamic education began to occur in Kazakhstan in the early 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and of its enforced atheism, said Azamat Maitanov, an Atyrau specialist on Islamic issues.
"During those times, the first teachers appeared in Kazakhstan -- Arab volunteers from religious foundations in Egypt and Saudi Arabia," he told Caravanserai. "New religious knowledge and alternative views that set themselves apart from the canons of traditional Islam ... inspired youths and local spiritual leaders."
"Under their influence, the first Kazakhstani students left to study religion in Turkey and Middle Eastern countries," he said. "They included some who fell under the influence of destructive movements."
[Part I of this article series ran on August 14.]