Kazakhstan Islam overview
Islam is the largest religion of Kazakhstan. Ethnic Kazakhs are historically Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school. The Muslim population of Kazakhstan is about 50%.
It is stated Islam is practiced by 47% of the population of Kazakhstan by the CIA and US Department of State (1994) and 57% according to the Embassy of UK (2007).
Kazakhstan Islam history
Islam was brought to Kazakhs people during the 8th century when Arabs arrived into Central Asia region. Islam was widely spread because of zealous missionary work of Samanid rulers, especially in areas surrounding ancient Kazakhstan city of Taraz where a lot of Kazakh people accepted Islam.
In the late 1300s, the Golden Horde was spreading Islam religion among Central Asian tribes. During the 1700s, Russian influence toward Kazakhstan region rapidly increased in Central Asia region. However, Russian policy gradually changed toward weakening Islam by introducing pre-Islamic elements of collective consciousness.
During the Soviet period, Muslim institutions of Kazakhstan survived only in areas where Kazakhs significantly outnumbered non-Muslims due to everyday Muslim practices. In an attempt to conform Kazakhs into Communist ideologies, gender relations and other aspects of Kazakh culture were key targets of social change.
In recent times, Kazakhs have gradually employed determined effort in revitalizing Islamic religious institutions after the fall of the Soviet Union. While not strongly fundamentalist, Kazakh people continue to identify with their Islamic faith, and even more devotedly in the countryside.
Kazakhstan Islam today
Since gaining independence, religious activity in Kazakhstan has increased significantly. The construction of mosques and religious schools accelerated in the 1990s, with financial help from Turkey, Egypt and especially Saudi Arabia.
Kazakhstan Constitution (1995) stipulates that Kazakhstan is a secular state. Kazakhstan is the only Central Asian state whose constitution does not assign a special status to Islam. Aware of the potential for investment from Muslim countries of the Middle East, Kazakhstan President Nazarbayev visited Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
At the same time, however, he preferred to cast Kazakhstan as a bridge between Muslim East and Christian West.