A shocking outbreak of violence in the western Kazakhstan city of Aktobe in June was quickly linked by authorities to radical Islam and prompted calls for greater emphasis on sidelining extremist currents of the faith.
Those ambitions, however, have not translated into any material improvements for the city’s main mosque — theoretically a bastion for state-approved Islam.
Employees at Aktobe’s Nur-Gasyr mosque have filed suit in a municipal court after exhausting all other efforts to be paid their wage arrears.
Sputnik news website on September 26 ran a report citing the plaintiffs as saying they had initially appealed to head of mosque’s management, Bakhytkerei Balkenov, to address the problem, but received only obscenities and threats in reply. They also tried to get help from the imam, Ospan Tole bi Dadiluliy, and again were unsuccessful.
Faith-focused online portal E-Islam.kz describes Nur-Gasyr as one of the two largest mosques in Aktobe along with the Central Mosque. It can accommodate up to 3,500 worshippers and houses a madrassa, or Islamic school, with 25 students.
In its time, Nur-Gasyr mosque was seen as an important project for advancing the influence of the government-affiliated Spiritual Association of Muslims of Kazakhstan (DUMK). Around $16.6 million were spent building the mosque from 2005 to 2009. Money was sourced from donations from Aktobe residents and businesspeople. Funding was also provided by major national companies.
Construction of the building was completed in September 2008. The opening was attended by Kazakhstan’s topmost elite, from President Nursultan Nazarbayev downward, as well as senior guests from Russia like then-President Dmitry Medvedev and the presidents of Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kalmykia.
As of 2013, there were 13 mosques registered in Aktobe — of which 11 operate under the DUMK’s auspices. A fourteenth mosque able to hold 700 worshippers was opened in March after multiple delays caused by funding issues.
Western Kazakhstan is by tradition home to the most religiously devout citizens of the country. And it is that part of the country that has had struggled the most with manifestations of radical Islam.
Local experts warn that the appeal of extremist strain of Islam lies primarily among the alienated and angry. Meanwhile, Astana-based sociologist Serik Beissembayev has argued that beneath the isolated cases of extremism spilling over into violence, there is a broader, more passive acceptance of radical religious beliefs. While many may hold ideas that go against the orthodoxy, only a minuscule minority act upon them in a violent manner.
Flourishing environments for Islam propagation tolerance and social cohesion should accordingly be a valuable component of the anti-extremism agenda, but mosques like Nur-Gasyr are evidently lacking the resources to fulfill that role.
Instead, emphasis among local branches of security services in being placed on trying to detect adherents of radical sects and tightening control over the message in DUMK mosques.