Kazakhstan is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country located in Central Asia. The main religions in Kazakhstan are Islam and Orthodox Christianity. However, the country has a long history of religious diversity and tolerance. This article will provide an overview of the religious landscape in Kazakhstan.
Religious Demographics in Kazakhstan
According to 2017 census data, the religious composition of Kazakhstan is:
- Muslims – 70.2%
- Christians – 26.2% (Orthodox – 25.4%, Protestants – 0.8%)
- Other religions – 0.2%
- Non-religious – 2.8%
- Undeclared – 0.6%
Islam is the dominant religion in Kazakhstan. Most Muslims adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam. Ethnic Kazakhs are predominantly Muslim. Islam first came to the region in the 8th century with the Arab conquests.
Orthodox Christianity is the second largest religion. Most Christians belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. Christianity came to Kazakhstan with the Russian expansion in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Other religious groups include Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Bahá’ís, Hare Krishnas, and others. Kazakhstan has a long tradition of religious tolerance and diversity.
Historical Overview of Religion in Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan has been home to a variety of religious traditions over the centuries:
- Shamanism – the traditional folk religion of the Kazakh nomads. Shamanist beliefs are still maintained by some Kazakhs.
- Zoroastrianism – originated in Persia and was present in Central Asia before Islam.
- Nestorian Christianity – a Christian sect that had followers along the Silk Road.
Arrival of Islam
- Islam arrived in the 8th century with the Arab conquests. Islam gradually displaced the older religions to become the dominant faith.
- Sufi missionaries helped spread Islam among the Kazakhs in the 14th-16th centuries. Sufism promoted tolerance and cultural integration.
- Hodja Ahmet Yasawi – influential Turkic Sufi teacher based in the city of Turkestan. His mausoleum remains an important pilgrimage site.
- With the Russian conquest in the 18th century, Orthodox Christianity also arrived in Kazakhstan.
- Many Kazakhs converted to Orthodox Christianity, while others continued practicing Islam.
- The Russians promoted Orthodox Christianity and suppressed Islamic institutions. This caused some tensions.
- Religion was suppressed under Soviet policies of state atheism. Mosques and churches were closed down.
- Despite this, many continued practicing Islam and Christianity secretly. Both religions saw a resurgence after independence.
- Kazakhstan declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
- Restrictions on religion were lifted, allowing a revival of Islam and Orthodox Christianity.
- The government has continued to promote secularism and religious tolerance. But some tensions remain.
So in summary, Islam and Orthodox Christianity are the main religions due to historical factors, but there is a long tradition of diversity.
Religious Freedom and State Policies
Kazakhstan’s constitution and laws provide for religious freedom and separation of religion and state. However, some restrictions remain in practice:
- Islam and Orthodox Christianity are favored religions with more privileges than minority groups. For example, Islamic and Orthodox holy days are observed as public holidays.
- To register, religious groups must have at least 50 members and submit to monitoring and oversight. Smaller groups face barriers.
- Proselytizing and religious education is restricted. Missionary activity requires registration.
- Some religious literature, symbols and activities are prohibited, if deemed extremist.
- Headscarves are banned in schools and government offices.
- More surveillance and restrictions have been imposed recently on some Islamic and Christian minority groups accused of extremism.
So in summary, while Kazakhstan provides basic religious freedom, the government still imposes some limits and favors the dominant faiths. There is room for improvement in protections for religious minorities.
Religious Sites and Practices
Kazakhstan has many sacred sites and religious buildings representing its diversity of faiths:
- Hazret Sultan Mosque – largest mosque in Kazakhstan, located in Astana.
- Central Mosque of Almaty – beautiful blue-domed mosque in Almaty.
- Shakpak-Ata Mosque – important Sufi shrine built into a cave.
- Aisha-Bibi Mausoleum – ancient mosque and tomb honoring a Sufi saint.
- Thousands of smaller mosques serve local communities across Kazakhstan.
Churches and Cathedrals
- Zenkov Cathedral – Russian Orthodox cathedral made entirely of wood, located in Almaty.
- Ascension Cathedral – ornate Orthodox cathedral in Almaty displaying Russian architecture.
- Nur-Astana Mosque – Kazakhstan’s largest mosque located in the capital, Astana.
- Hundreds of Orthodox churches date back to the Czarist and Soviet eras.
- Chabad Lubavitch Synagogue and Jewish Cultural Center – hub of Jewish life in Almaty.
- Almaty also has a Holocaust memorial synagogue and Jewish cemetery.
- Golden Light Siddhartha Temple – impressive Buddhist temple in Almaty.
- Temple of Great Enlightenment – Buddhist temple located in Astana.
- Muslims pray five times daily, gather for Friday prayers at mosques, and celebrate holy days like Eid al-Fitr.
- Christians attend church services on Sundays and observe holidays like Easter and Christmas.
- Buddhist temples serve as community hubs with meditation, ceremonies and retreats.
- Jews worship at synagogues and observe holy days like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
So Kazakhstan has diverse religious sites and practices integral to community life across the country.
Role of Religion in Kazakh Culture
Religion plays an important role in the culture and daily life of Kazakhstan:
- Islam is closely tied to Kazakh traditions. For instance, it is integrated into rites of passage like birth, marriage and death. Elements of shamanism and Sufism still influence Kazakh Islam.
- Orthodox Christianity also shaped Kazakh culture, especially in northern regions. Church architecture, religious music and Orthodox feast days impact culture.
- Minority faiths like Judaism and Buddhism add to the cultural fabric through their traditions. Their holidays are often celebrated nationally.
- Mosques, churches and temples are community hubs alongside bazaars and teahouses. They mobilize charity, education and events.
- Muslim and Orthodox leaders have political influence. The Russian Orthodox Church works closely with the government on issues of morality and nationalism.
- Some tensions arise on enforcing religious values, like Headscarf bans or restricting non-traditional sects.
- But interfaith initiatives promote tolerance and inclusion. For instance, the Congress of World and Traditional Religions.
So in summary, diverse faiths profoundly shape Kazakh national identity, daily life, traditions and community institutions.
Trends and Outlook
Some key trends and outlook regarding religion in Kazakhstan:
- Islamic revival – Since independence, many Kazakhs are rediscovering their Islamic heritage, leading to a religious revival. More mosques are being built.
- Orthodox resurgence – The Orthodox Church is also experiencing renewed growth and influence after the atheist Soviet period.
- Changing demographics – Rising birthrates among the Muslim population are increasing the percentage of Muslims.
- Generational differences – Younger urban Kazakhs tend to be more secular, while older rural Kazakhs are deeply devout.
- Extremism concerns – There are worries about radicalization among some Muslims and Christians. The government is imposing more restrictions in response.
- Interfaith tensions – Controversies related to proselytizing, conversions and building permits occasionally flare up.
- Continued secularism – Kazakhstan will likely remain largely secular politically, but with religion playing a strong role socially and culturally.
In conclusion, Kazakhstan will navigate maintaining secular governance, religious freedom, cultural traditions, and harmony between faith communities in the years ahead.
Table summarizing religious demographics in Kazakhstan:
In conclusion, Kazakhstan is a multi-faith country with Islam and Orthodox Christianity as the dominant religions. While secular in governance, faith continues to play an important cultural role.
Kazakhstan has a long history of diversity and tolerance between belief systems, despite some tensions. Moving forward, the country aims to balance religious freedom, tradition, and harmony between different communities. If trends continue, Islam will play an even greater role demographically and culturally in Kazakhstan’s future.
At the same time, the government will likely maintain secularism and restrictions on religious extremism. Kazakhstan presents a useful model of how to manage religious pluralism.
Frequently Asked Questions about Religion in Kazakhstan
What is the dominant religion in Kazakhstan?
The dominant religion is Islam, practiced by 70.2% of the population. Most Kazakhs follow Sunni Hanafi Islam, influenced by their nomadic heritage and Sufi traditions.
What percentage of Kazakhstan is Russian Orthodox?
Around 25.4% of Kazakhstan’s population identify as Russian Orthodox Christians, making it the second largest religion. Orthodoxy came to the region during Czarist Russian expansion.
How free is Kazakhstan in terms of religious freedom?
Kazakhstan’s constitution provides for religious freedom on paper, but some restrictions remain in practice. Minority religious groups face more barriers and monitoring than dominant Islam and Orthodoxy.
When did Islam first come to Kazakhstan?
Islam arrived in the 8th century CE with the Arab conquest of Central Asia. Islam gradually became the dominant religion by displacing older shamanistic, Zoroastrian and Nestorian Christian beliefs.
Were people in Kazakhstan originally Tengrist?
Yes, the early nomadic tribes of Kazakhstan followed a shamanistic folk religion known as Tengrism, which revered the sky deity Tengri. Traces of Tengrism still remain in Kazakh culture today.
What religions are banned in Kazakhstan?
Kazakhstan does not formally ban any religions, but minority faiths like Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, and some Muslim and Christian sects face extra restrictions and monitoring for alleged extremism.
Are there many mosques in Kazakhstan?
Yes, Kazakhstan has over 5,000 mosques serving its Muslim majority population. The iconic Hazret Sultan Mosque in Astana is currently the largest. Mosques serve as important community spaces.
Where is the largest Orthodox cathedral in Kazakhstan?
The Zenkov Cathedral located in Almaty is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in Kazakhstan. It is an iconic historical landmark built entirely out of wood with no nails.
How do Kazakhstanis celebrate Easter and Christmas?
Most Kazakhs celebrate two Easters and Christmases, one based on the Orthodox calendar and one based on the Western calendar. It involves church services, family meals, gift exchanges and public festivities.