The law on religions and the situation in Kazakhstan after its adoption

The article deals with some provisions of the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan "On Religious Activities and Religious Organizations" dated from October 11, 2011. Much attention is paid to the observations of the events that preceded and followed the adoption of the law, which led to the strengthening of the religious "underground" of some internationally recognized and peacefully directed religious groups. While the main official goal of passing the law the identification of terrorist and extremist organizations was not achieved. The authors in the paper indicate a number of flaws in the Law, as well as the urgent need for its revision. 

More than 6 years have passed since the adoption of the Law “On the religious activities and religious organizations” [1] by the Kazakhstan Parliament, so we believe it is quite natural to make some short political and religion research analyses of the direction in which the religious situation in the country changed at present.

The history of the Law adoption is significant by itself. The projects of the Law were twice rejected by the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Officially these projects were recognized by the Constitutional Council as not conforming with the Constitution of the country.

But probably there were some political motives: it was the time when the chairmanship of Kazakhstan in OSCE was being discussed. That is why the adoption of the Law was postponed to “the better times”. And that wasn’t a secret. As soon as the chairmanship had been completed the Law was adopted immediately, practically without any serious amendments to the projects which some time ago were recognized unconstitutional.

The haste of the adoption brought to the fact that all the proposals of religious communities and leading religious researchers had been ignored. The document appeared to be just official. It lacks the fundamental regulations of the Constitution of the country such as “liberty of conscience”, “guaranteeing the rights of the citizens religious pluralism”, “religious tolerance”. Nobody was confused.

It is a pity, but the Constitutional Council did not speak out its attitude to the situation. Practically, citizens of Kazakhstan did not manage to hear the clear voice of the International Human rights defenders.

Tertullian – a well-known antic writer, the founder and one of the greatest representative of the Latin patristics wrote in Apologeticus: “The Law that does not want to be verified deserves suspicion. And if it rules without thorough discussion and verification is vile, because the recognition of its equity gains not by the law itself but by those who must obey the law” [2].

It is amazing how much cleverer and more sagacious the ancient people were. And the research of the Political Decisions Institute “The Index of Religious Tensions in Kazakhstan” proves it. It was presented in the middle of the 2012 year.

The situation in Kazakhstan was defined as pre-critical. The index of tension varies in different regions of the country in the range from 27 to 62 points (the medium range is 46 points), the most problematic turned out to be West regions.

All this was called forth first by the heterogeneous appreciation (understanding) of the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan from the 11th of October 2011 “On the religious activities and religious organizations” and the resolution of the Government “On the approvement of rules for carrying out religious expertise” from the 7th of March 2012. More that 42% of Kazakhstan citizens declared the readiness of personal participation in religious conflicts. This is already serious.

What’s the reason?

Kazakhstan is multi-national country. According to the data of the Statistic Agency (see, “by the 11th May 2017 by the exact data the number of the country population is 18.000.000 people. However, available national composition data are older (as for January, 2015) Kazakhs comprise 63,07%, Russians – 23,7%, Uzbeks – 2,85%, Ukrainians – 2,08%, Uigurs – 1,4%, Tatars – 1,28%, Germans – (1,11%) and other ethnic groups – 4,51%” [3].

Naturally, the religious panorama is quite heterogeneous.

By the state on the 1st of January 2011 (id est before the adoption of the New Law) in the country there were more than 40 confessions and denominations or 4551 religious associations, including 2756 Muslim, 1256 Protestant, 303 Orthodox, 87 Catholic, 27 Jewish and 5 Buddhist communities [4].

After re-registration, conducted in accordance with the New Law, out of the former religious communities (associations) there remained only 17 confessions and denominations, uniting 3088 (68%) communities, which got the legal registration. Out of them communities of Hanafi Madhhab of Sunni Islam prevails. There are 2229 of them [5].

According to latest data (available on the website of the Ministry of Religions Affairs and Civil Society that was formed in September, 2016) by August 2016 there were 3621 registered religious communities.

During the re-registration the greatest damage was brought to the neo-protestant and new religious organizations. But that was just the initial task: to push out from the religious field and if the luck permits from the country those religious associations which are considered by the government “non-traditional”.

Let us recall Soviet times. As a result of the policy of “the aggressive atheism” in the Soviet Union was created a non-precedential, according to the scale, religious underground, which to certain extent exists up-todate. Now it became larger due to those who on different reasons did not re-register themselves. The authorities don’t know what to do under the situation. Yet, during the period of adoption of the Law a lot of experts were warning a possibility of such a situation but the lobbyists of the law ignored all the warnings they acted on the principle: “after us be the flood”.

Historically the Sunni Islam, headed by the Religious Management of Muslims of Kazakhstan (DUMK) and the Russian Orthodox Church are the most mass organizations. No wonder they dominate, and by all means support them in lobbies and advertise them otherwise without concealing that, fulfill the functions of neophytes.

So the supporters of the Law project were absolutely sure of the support on the governmental and Parliamentarian level.

There developed an absolutely paradoxical situation when many purely spiritual demands are decided not by the believers themselves but in the corridors of power. Sometimes it takes an anecdotic turn. For example, in the Mosque of a settlement Shardara of the South Kazakhstan region there was a clash on the religious ground. Imam of the local Mosque forbade the local citizen to make namaz in the Mosque on the ground that his prayers do not conform to the rules of the Hanafi Madhhab.

The Moslem indignant at such arbitrariness went to the local akimat and the local brunch of “Nur Otan” party [6]. The head of the Internal Affairs Department Bakhtiyar Alipbayev called the imam to his office and explained that such intolerance and arbitrariness in the Mosque are impossible. After the talk the imam brought his apologies to the Moslem [7]. No wonder, the Supreme Mufti, himself, according to his words, the question of his retirement addressed not to his community (co-believers) but to the President of the country and only after his agreement called Kurultai (the Council of co-believers). And this takes place in the secular state!

But let’s come back to the Law itself “On the religious activities and religious organizations”.

Article 22 of the Constitution of Kazakhstan consolidates the following position: “Everybody has a right on freedom of conscience”. Kazakhstan has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other International Legal Acts, which guarantee the freedom of conscience and religion. During the Summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in December 2010 in Astana, where Kazakhstan presided, the “Astana Commemorative Declaration” was adopted. It states that “…Respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law must be safeguarded and strengthened. Greater efforts must be made to promote freedom of religion or belief and aimed to combat intolerance and discrimination” and so on and so forth [8]. But all the ideology of the Law is directly opposite to these standards.

In accordance with the Constitution Kazakhstan is a secular state guaranteeing equal rights to all the citizens, but in the law special place is devoted to the Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodox Church.

It is necessary to take into consideration that extremely negative influence on the religious situation in Kazakhstan is exerted by the growth of clericalism in Russia, unjustified and unwarranted. The Russian Orthodox Church interferes with the life of the secular state. It is on the Parliament level official declarations are made, that Russia is an Orthodox country. In our country such encroachment on the Constitution is not observed yet, but the problem itself is not only spread, it is widely propagated. For example, one of the Moslem religious authorities Sheikh-ul-Islam Muhammad-Hussein ibn Usman Alsabekov (by the way, he is a Doctor of Philosophy) in his monograph quite openly maintains: “Kazakhstan is a Moslem country” [9].

If one takes into consideration that in our country only 30 per cent of imams have diplomas of secular or religious education [10] and are able to take the statements of Sheikh Alsabekov critically, for the rest imams his words are sure to be taken for granted, they are unquestionable, indisputable, it is possible to imagine what a wide audience this statement has got.

Besides, the former Supreme Mufti, who had been working for a long time in the Saudi Arabia before, since the day of his appointment called for cleansing Islam in Kazakhstan from “folk” and “pagan” layers and bring it closer to the “clean”, classical variant taking as the example the country of his former place of work, where Islam is the governmental religion with all the after effects.

It is a pity but he had his disciples in the power structures, which brought to Islam phobia and this only the first step to national struggle which will be difficult to avoid. Most of Kazakhs will never accept Saudi variant of Islam.

Religious Management of Muslims and the Metropolia of Russian Orthodox Church, pulled the state into the struggle for the “religious field” and that called forth a massive pressure on the Protestant and NeoProtestant confessions and denominations, whose religious teachings without due research were declared destructive, threatening the country safety.

As we see it, the law must distinctly define the mutual responsibility: on the one hand of the religious organizations and each of the believers before the government and society as a whole, on the other hand the government must be responsible before the believers in its struggle with non-tolerance and non-constitutional interception into purely religious activity of confessions and denominations, strictly prevent rude, insulting language in relation to the believers.

All these things are missing in the law.

As a result even now the point of introducing amendments and corrections into the present law. But at present the religious organizations are already living in its legal field. That is why there are so many litigations, because this Law was accepted by officials and especially law enforcement bodies just as the way to “cleaning” all Protestant and Neo-Protestant and new religious organizations. Moslem and Orthodox formations and Catholic communities also felt pressure on the side of most jealous officials.

During propagandistic preparation of the social opinion for the adoption of the Law “On the religious activities and religious organizations” the main idea was that the law will be directed first of all against terrorism, to struggle it. But in the adopted variant these notions are absent at all. And that is quite explainable: the law on religion cannot be the weapon against the contemporary political plague. For this purpose it should be worked out quite different measures, no wonder that the Deputy Chief of the State Security Committee Kabdulkarim Abdikazimov in his official report to Interfax declared that “within the limits of the reregistration there were not discovered any religious organization of extremist or terrorist kind”.

It does not mean that extremism and terrorism passed our country by. Just the opposite, on the territory of Kazakhstan were fixed emissaries of the following organizations acting under the Islamists flags as “Asbat-AlAnsar” (the League of the Devoted to the Serving), initiated by Lebanon sunnits with the aim to Struggle the Israel occupation of Palestine and for the defending Lebanon from the West influence; “Boz Gurd” (Grey Wolves) – Turkish war formations, which set the task of Turanization – creation the United State of the Turk people; “Zhamaat of modzhaheds of Central Asia”, created by the fighters of Islamist Movement of Uzbekistan, joined to “Al-Kaida”; “Islam Movement of Uzbekistan” (IMU), well-known as “Party of Islam Revival”; “Kurd National Congress”; “Lashkar-i-Toiba” (the Army of Kindness), the aim of which is the support of Afghan Opposition, it enters the United Council of Dzhihad (the movement appeared in Pakistan); “Organization of setting free of Eastern Turkestan” and some others.

There are a lot of cases when citizens of Kazakhstan had set, for instance, for Syria to fight on the side of opposition in the armed conflict [11].

Of course, all this demands increased vigilance on the part of the government, its security organs and the whole of the population of the country for the real danger of the religious extremism, Islam fundamentalism, in particular, in its extreme display is very high. Moreover, for us, people of Kazakhstan, it is a hundred times more dangerous because we live in the multinational state.

In connection with the growing threat of spreading extremism in Kazakhstan experts do not exclude the possibility of friction inside the title ethnic groups, secular-religious clash between the radical part of practicing Muslims on the one side and the bearer of “secular radicalism” on the other [12].

In addition, professor K.L. Syroyezhkin (one of the most serious men of principle) is undoubtedly right, when in his article “Two conceptions and one doctrine” writes: “The society needs accurate and clear-cut answers to some key questions: What kind of Kazakhstan are we building? What basic values will form the national identity? What is the historical perspective of the non-title ethnic groups? What will be the basis of the national unity – Turkic or Euro-Asian solidarity? What explains the growth of inter-ethnical conflicts and what is in their basis? These are far from simple questions…” [13].

And these problems must be solved, as people say, today and now, because the main thing concludes in the fact that the future of Kazakhstan and hence of all of us depends on it.



  1. The Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On the religious activities and religious organizations” from the 11 of October, 2011.
  2. See “New Gazetta” newspaper №18 (359), 29.04-03.05.2012. – page 7.
  3. Evening Almaty” newspaper №63-64 (1282-1283), 21.05.2013. ( (Дата обращения: 25.09.2017).
  4. See the official data of the National Center of Culture and Religions, published by Mass Media (f.i. “Time” newspaper for 11.2011, ( (Дата обращения: 25.09.2017).
  5. “Time” newspaper №183 (1537), 05.12.2012. ( (Дата обращения:25.09.2017).
  6. “Nur Otan” is the ruling party in
  7. “Nur Otan” rules…religion”, “Ashyk Alak” (Tribune) newspaper (Kazakhstan) №10 (28), 03.2013.
  8. Editors: Artemyev Arthur, Kolchigin Sergey, Tsepkova Irina, Religions in Two volumes. Volume II – Almaty: Bastau, 2011 – pp.344-354.
  9. Sheikh-ul-Islam Muhammad-Hussein ibn Usman Alsabekov, Islam: Religious Ideas and Up-to-dateness. – Almaty, 2008 – 108.
  10. “Time” newspaper №155 (1509), 13.10.2012. ( (Дата обращения: 25.09.2017).
  11. “New Gazetta” newspaper №43 (437) 31.10-07.11.2013. –P. 5.
  12. See, for instance, Kalishevskiy “Kazakhstan: national peculiarities of the ideological building”. “Truth ful Newspaper” №17, 22.10.2013.
  13. Syroyezhkin K. “Two conceptions and one doctrine”. “Adviser” magazine №3-4 (Kazakhstan), March-June, 2010 – page
Year: 2017
City: Almaty
Category: Sociology