- Islamic Education in Central Asia:Evidence from Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan, Islam, education, Central Asia, politics
This article examines the dynamics and implications of Islamic education in the post-Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan.
The current state of Islamic education in Kazakhstan requires comprehensive reforms, owing to a gap between the need for Islamic education and the lack of necessary resources such as institutional facilities and trained imams. This deficit in Islamic education seems to emanate from (1) unbalanced government regulation of religion, (2) shortsighted fears of Islamic revival, and (3) an insufficient allocation of resources. Islamic educational institutions are instrumental in educating indigenous Islamic scholars and spiritual leaders who can promote mainstream, nonradical teachings in local communities. The lack of access to Islamic education not only undermines the prospects for promoting mainstream teachings but also increases the risk of foreign-supported radical groups recruiting uninformed Kazakh youth.
• The Kazakh government can play a proactive role by providing greater institutional infrastructure for mainstream Islamic learning, which could help deter the spread of radicalism. The government would benefit from viewing Islamic educational institutions as an opportunity rather than as a threat to Kazakhstan's long-term well-being.
• Because investing in Islamic educational reforms is a slow, evolving process without immediate results, measurable outcomes of comprehensive reforms in education could potentially take years. Thus, policymakers should be mindful of the time frame involved in reforming educational systems.
• Policies to enhance Islamic education, however, must not curtail wider religious freedoms. Therefore, international actors need to play proactive roles in helping monitor and prevent state repression of religious freedoms in Central Asia. [End Page 80]
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Central Asian states began to re-establish their historical links with the Islamic identity that had defined the region's culture, traditions, and way of life for many centuries. Research to date has predominantly examined the dynamics of Islam, Islamic revival, or political Islam in the context of various social and political processes in the five Central Asian republics.1 Very little is known, however, about how Islam is taught or understood in local settings. While the importance of Islamic education is often cited in the literature, very few studies have systematically analyzed why Islamic education matters in Central Asia.2 In addition, the causal conditions that enhance or impede Islamic education in the post-Soviet space remain largely underdeveloped. Given the limited scholarship available, a systematic analysis of the state, trends, and patterns of Islamic education, as well as its implications in the Central Asian context, remains a high priority for scholars and policymakers. Why does Islamic education matter in Central Asia? What are the causes for the deficit in Islamic education? What are the implications of state policies toward Islamic education in the region? In attempting to answer these questions, this article explores the significance of and the causes for the deficit in Islamic education in the context of the post-Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan, and considers the potential implications for the region.
In order to formulate effective educational policies, the underlying issues and problems within the current state of Islamic education must be identified. In other words, it is necessary to map out the current structure, trends, and patterns of Islamic education before any meaningful reforms can be formulated. This article attempts to fill this gap by analyzing the empirical nexus between Islamic revival, Islamic education, and state policies toward religion in Kazakhstan.
In line with previous research results, the findings of this article also suggest that the state of Islamic education in Central Asia is in need of comprehensive reforms due to a gap between the need for such education and the resources necessary in the form of institutional facilities and trained personnel.3 In this regard, the causes for the deficit in Islamic education seem to emanate from (1) unbalanced government regulation of religion, (2) shortsighted fears of Islamic revival, and (3) insufficient allocation of resources. [End Page 81]
The implications of Islamic education are pivotal.4 The lack of access to such education seems not only to undermine the prospects for promoting mainstream Islamic teachings but also to...