ASIA/KAZAKHSTAN – Dialogue is a form of life, control of religions, a necessity of the state
Astana – “Kazakhstan comes from a tradition of peaceful coexistence. If active politics of control of religion are being carried out today, it is because of the fears of instigators who often come from abroad, who finance the construction of large Islamic mosques. We recall, for example, that part of the capital Astana was built by the Bin Laden family. For a question of apparent fairness, therefore, the Kazakh government also controls all other religions”. This is what Don Edoardo Canetta reports to Agenzia Fides, who for many years was a missionary in Kazakhstan, and also Apostolic Vicar for Central Asia and a professor at the Islamic University of Almaty, the National Eurasian University of Astana and Kazakh’s Diplomatic Academy. Don Canetta, now a priest of the diocese of Milan and a professor at Ambrosiana University, explains to Fides how in the largest state of the Central Asian region “a law where no religious function can be celebrated with the exception of some places agreed with the state was approved already in 2011: for example, one cannot organize processions or liturgies outside the church territory. In addition, cameras have been installed at various places of worship because, in the event of an attack or violence, it is possible to identify the perpetrators”.
This tendency, according to Don Canetta, is a step backwards: after the achievement of independence in 1991, in fact, professing a faith had “become fashionable” in reaction to the persecutions of the communist regime which imposed atheism. Now as then, however, religious belonging is a minor aspect compared to the ethnic element: “the results of the first census of the Kazakh Republic, carried out in 1995, four years after independence were explicative, in this sense. With regards to religion, 70% of the population claimed they did not believe in God; at the same time, 50% professed the Muslim faith. In Kazakhstan, an atheist but of Russian origin, feels he formally belongs to the Orthodox Church; if he is Kazakh he defines himself as a Muslim, if he is German or Polish he is also Catholic and so on”.
In this interweaving of ethnicities and religions, he says, “coexistence has always been absolutely peaceful. I was Vicar General of all Central Asia for five years and when I went to open a new parish, it was often the country’s mullah who hosted me. “On the other hand, Kazakh Islam comes from a moderate tradition: originally rejected by the nomads in the area, it was accepted only at the end of 1300, thanks to the mediation of Ahmed Hadgi Jassavy, great Sufi master of Turkestan. This led to the spread of a Muslim religion based, for example, on prayers in Kazakh language or on a cult of non-Islamic deaths.
Even the civil and criminal code moves away from the sharia because it provides, among other things, the possibility of baptism or substitution of jail and death penalty with a series of mediations”.
“When the Soviet Union fell”, the priest said, “the preachers from Saudi Arabia arrived and claimed that this was not true Islam. That is why there is today a debate between those who support the Kazakh tradition and the so-called ‘fundamentalists’. Of course, however, when it comes to Islamic fundamentalism, one must absolutely distinguish it from terrorism: it is the latter phenomenon that worries the state. In fact, just like in European countries, there are several foreign fighters in Central Asia as well”. This is confirmed by the birth date of the authors of recent attacks: the last in order of time is Sayfullo Saipov, the Uzbek who hit New York last October 31. The attackers of Stockholm and Istanbul also came from Central Asia, as well as one of the child killers in the video released by ISIS in August 2016.