Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Religion in Kazakhstan: A General View

Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Religion in Kazakhstan: A General View

Article excerpt


The Republic of Kazakhstan is one of the largest states in Asia. With respect to religion, Kazakhstan is often regarded as part of the Moslem world, although this is debatable. Kazakhstan can hardly be called a Moslem country; it is neither purely Asian nor European; it is a place where East and West are closely intermingled. This factor influences various processes which take place in this country, including those affecting religion.

It is necessary to note that Kazakhstan has never been a country affected by particularly strong religious sentiments or powerful religious forces. Religious organizations have always been rather passive and do not claim any political role in the state. In contrast to those in neighboring countries, religious groups in Kazakhstan generally do not strive to exercise their influence upon political or social events. The vast majority of religious organizations in Kazakhstan pursue their own practical aims and try not to go beyond the limits of their legal activities. Some occasional attempts by Islamic fundamentalists to become more politically active have been quickly stopped by the state.

The religious situation in Kazakhstan has changed radically since the collapse of the Communist system. Today there is growth in religious freedom that would have been impossible under the Soviet regime. Some examples include: rapid growth in the number of believers1 and religious organizations;2 creation of certain conditions for believers to satisfy their religious needs;3 legalization of previously banned religious organizations;4 absence of state control over all religious organizations and individual believers;5 rise of new religious organizations (nontraditional for Kazakhstan) including many foreign religious organizations;6 and growth of Islamic fundamentalism.

The relationships between the state and religious organizations have also changed greatly. The former attitude of stubborn and active opposition against all religious organizations which was characteristic of the Soviet period has been replaced with an attitude of mutual respect and cooperation.7 In general, the religious situation in Kazakhstan can be characterized as calm. Throughout the period of political independence in Kazakhstan, there have been no noteworthy conflicts nor any other negative events on religious grounds.

The legal foundation for the existence of activity for religious organizations has changed as well. Several regulatory documents legalizing various religious activities were recently approved and passed into law. Registered religious organizations are now recognized as legal entities and can take part in legal transactions. Religious organizations have expanded rights and may now participate in civil negotiations on their own behalf; in many respects they do not differ from other legal organizations.8


Everything mentioned above can be referred to as the general social and juridical spheres of religious organizations' functioning. But upon closer examination of religious issues, there are at least seven shortcomings that are not evident at first sight. In the future, these shortcomings may present a considerable problem that could influence the development of the religious situation in Kazakhstan.

First, despite some positive changes in Kazakhstan's religious legislation, many troublesome questions remain unanswered. Very often the law regards religious organizations as commercial enterprises, with all the consequences of this assumption. This assumption ignores the peculiarities inherent in the structure and management of religious organizations and handicaps the very existence and practical activity of these organizations. For example, in some cases religious organizations were required to have the same institutional structure and executive bodies as for-profit organizations.

Second, some foreign religious organizations and missionaries from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, and Lebanon are operating in Kazakhstan. …

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