Kazakstan Table of Contents

By tradition the Kazaks are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school, and the Russians are Russian Orthodox. In 1994, some 47 percent of the population was Muslim, 44 percent was Russian Orthodox, and 2 percent was Protestant, mainly Baptist. Some Jews, Catholics, and Pentacostalists also live in Kazakstan; a Roman Catholic diocese was established in 1991. As elsewhere in the newly independent Central Asian states, the subject of Islam's role in everyday life, and especially in politics, is a delicate one in Kazakstan.

Islam in the Past

As part of the Central Asian population and the Turkic world, Kazaks are conscious of the role Islam plays in their identity, and there is strong public pressure to increase the role that faith plays in society. At the same time, the roots of Islam in many segments of Kazak society are not as deep as they are in neighboring countries. Many of the Kazak nomads, for instance, did not become Muslims until the eighteenth or even the nineteenth century, and urban Russified Kazaks, who by some counts constitute as much as 40 percent of the indigenous population, profess discomfort with some aspects of the religion even as they recognize it as part of their national heritage.

Soviet authorities attempted to encourage a controlled form of Islam as a unifying force in the Central Asian societies while at the same time stifling the expression of religious beliefs. Since independence, religious activity has increased significantly. Construction of mosques and religious schools has accelerated in the 1990s, with financial help from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt. Already in 1991, some 170 mosques were operating, more than half of them newly built; at that time, an estimated 230 Muslim communities were active in Kazakstan

Islam and the State

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress