By Azamat MAITANOV, Deputy Editor-in-Chief
Recent arrests of religious extremists in the district of Kurmangazy demonstrated that Atyrau Oblast is still an unquiet area.
How do extremist groups in Kazakhstan attract the youth? Why do young people join radical movements and commit terrorist attacks? What is the force that pushes them to do so? Is the method of force an effective tool to counter religious extremism? These difficult questions will long remain without answers.
How they go underground
The notion that young people approach radicals for good money and the system operates like network marketing – bring friends and get dividends – has nothing to do with the current situation in Kazakhstan.
Nobody wants to put freedom at stake, not to mention own life for money.
Basically, the number of radicals grows at the expense of disappointed former hearers of mosques under Kazakhstan’s Spiritual Directorate of Muslims [DUMK].
Extremists do not look for young men in streets - young men find them. What leads them is a thirst for basic knowledge of aqidah - studies describing the beliefs of the Islamic faith - and adequate answers to various religious questions.
The youth seek things they failed to find in official priesthood. In their eyes, places run by DUMK are seen as donation boxes and the religion there is explained, in fact, as ceremonial and ritual norms only.
Owing to the Internet, today believers learn about fundamental explanations of aqidah and fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence] at home, rather than asking imams.
Then conflicts develop: an imam in the mosque tells a thing believed to be right according to DUMK, in response a young mosque-goer cites a fatwa [a juristic ruling concerning Islamic law] by ibn-Bazza, a respected Islamic scholar and former mufti of Saudi Arabia, which he saw in the web. Virtually, imam can not answer back.
Non-acceptance of religious norms followed by the official Muslim clergy, leads to radicalization of some young minds. As a result of disputes, independent Muslims get forced out of mosques – Pray the way DUMK approved, or leave!
Usually, outcasts go underground, where they form self-consistent communities, choose various Arab sheikhs as figures of authority and unthinkingly absorb all shades of ideas.
Normally, ambitious young people without life experience, but with religious education obtained through self-studies join extremist communities.
Doubtless, some of them come to independent communities due to solidarity with friends or relatives. Others get seduced by the romance of Islamic brotherhood and Jihad [Arab for struggle], which is colorfully portrayed in the You Tube videos these days.
Another cohort is uneducated youth with socially disadvantaged background - boys and girls grown up in one-parent families, now unemployed or previously convicted – that found some spiritual and material support from brothers in faith, a warmth they never received from the state.
Their ideology and targets
Nowadays, the dominant Sunni ideology in the world of Islam is its extremely radical manifestation – Kharijism, often called Jihadism in the West.
Kharijites charge all Muslims that do not share their views with infidelity and believe the only way to save modern Umma [Muslim community] is to lead armed fight against tagut [secular power based on laws other than of Allah] and infidels.
One of chief ideologists of today’s Kharijites is a Jordanian sheikh Mukhammad Maqdisi.
He teaches the necessity to run armed Jihad, issues taqfir [charge of infidelity] to leaders of Arabic countries and calls Muslims to renounce them.
Views of Jihadist theologians are widely spread in the Middle East, the Maghreb countries, partially in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Northern Caucasus.
A great many of groups emerged there that follow a single aqidah-ideology often mistakenly called Al-Qaeda [Arab for fundamental] by Western experts, which they refer to as the main international terrorist organization.
By the way, one of Jihadism’s breeding grounds is Syria, where Kharijites from the entire world are gathering, also from Central Asia and Kazakhstan, to fight on the side of rebels against tagut.
It’s worth noting that Damascus is the place, where, according to Sunni sacred legends [hadis], Prophet Jesus will come and lead Muslims to the last battle against Antichrist.
Jihadism also exists in the post-Soviet area: in Russia and Central Asia. Lectures by missionaries Abdulkhalil Abdujapparov and Saeed of Buryatia, who was killed in Ingushetia in 2009 by FSB, are very popular in Kazakhstan.
Abdujapparov, also known as Sheikh Khalil, is named by special services ‘the spiritual leader’ of Kazakh Mujahidin [Muslims who struggle in the path of Allah]. For several years he officially delivered lectures in a mosque of Atyrau, where he is still much honored by local congregate.
Now Khalil is searched by Interpol and hiding in Saudi Arabia.
In Kazakhstan, there are rather moderate Salafi missionaries with Murji’ah [a belief that no one decides who is right, but Allah on the Judgement Day] concepts opposite to Jihadist views.
An ethnic Tatar, Rinat Abu Mukhammad al-Kazakhstani [secular name – Rinat Zainullin], whom Jund al-Khalifat intended to kill but failed and a Kazakh, Daryn Mubarov, who is also hiding from intelligence agencies in the Middle East, are an example.
It is known, that Kazakh Jihadists time after time appealed to Arab sheikhs requesting fatwah to lead jihad against Kazakhstan’s authorities and force structures that prosecute and humiliate independent Muslims.
Besides, other permits exist that justify terror on representatives of secular power. For example, a fatwah of Sheikh Abu Jandal al-Azadi, a Jihadist ideologist in Saudi Arabia, warrants killing any officer defending tagut.
I would say the 2011 events in Aktobe Oblast were the first signal, when I presumed that from that moment, tensions between the authorities and religious groups would only grow stronger.
In a trial over 42 members of an underground Jihadist group and 5 persons accused of involvement in the 2011 terrorist acts near the Oblast Administration headquarters and the prosecutor’s office, the motive voiced was to revenge on law enforcement bodies and authorities for prosecution of Muslims.
The biggest problem is that authorities still have not realized and even worse – they do not wish to understand that they are standing against an ideology in their war on terror.
Moreover, it is a religious ideology with big potential to mobilize thousands.
One should bear in mind that Islam initially has been and will be a politically motivated religion.
Islam is the ideology with the main postulate “The entire power belongs to Allah!” – this may never be torn out of the whole concept and ‘neutralized’ by any reformist idea.
Many now compare the events that took place in Kazakhstan and Northern Caucasia. In my opinion, the situations in the two places are not similar and the comparison is not to our advantage.
The power consolidating the majority of Caucasian Muslims is traditionally strong Sufism. It is the Sufist ideology with its cult of honoring sheikh-pirs and Mouridism, officially supported by Russian federal authorities, that counter balances Salafism in Caucasus.
The height of conflict was the recent assassination of a Sufist sheikh, Saeed Afandi of Chirkei, who represented Nakshbandi school of Sufism in Caucasus.
This brought the conflict to a new level due to hundreds of thousands of Dagestan people followed Sheikh of Chirkei and the Sufis rule Dagestan’s Spiritual Directorate of Muslims.
Republics in the north of Caucasus are now suffering a real civil war, misrepresented to everyman by Russian media.
But the situation is different in ex-Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan, a country with weakened religious and cultural identity. Spiritual directorate is managed by followers of Madhhab Hanifah [Hanifah school of Sunnism] that do not support traditional Sufism.
For most of believers, especially the youth, DUMK is not a spiritual authority, because Kazakhstan lacks an institute of religious leaders and patriarchs, unlike Uzbekistan and North Caucasus.
Taliban are Hanifah too…
The slogan “One nation – one madhhab” being promoted by Kazakhstan’s secular authorities, which by doing so want to help DUMK become the monopolist, contains big danger.
What should followers of other madhhabs do then? Why split believers into Hanifah majority and the rest, other madhhabs, including Sufists?
To take the canons of Imam Agzam Abu Hahifa and introduce them throughout the country will be difficult. Many mistakenly believe this school is the most loyal and easiest in Sunnism. In fact, Hanifah school is known to be one of the earliest schools of Sharia Law in Islam and its fiqh is the strictest. For example, Taliban in Afghanistan diligently follow Hanifah school.
Solution to the issue of religious extremism, in my view, requires complex and systematic approach. Of course, it is easier to point fingers at beards and hijabs, than to understand true reasons for believers going underground and suicide bombers attack.
The society and authorities need to grasp the fundamental essence of the phenomena – Kazakh extremism, which is the collection of religious, social, economical and political problems.
It is impossible to once and forever exterminate the problem, but it needs long and all-round ‘therapy.’
We are Kazakhs
Actions to counter radicalism should not limit to force methods and expulsion of heretics from the official platform.
Predominantly, intellectual means need to be employed – through explanation and discrediting extremist doctrines and teachings in the sphere of spiritual and secular education.
The best preventive measure is to deliver basic knowledge of the religion to the people and develop and promote an idea of national identity.