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The People of Kazakhstan, Religion

Uzbeks, Tatars, Russian Orthodox Church, Soviet government, Muslim people

The Kazakhs are a Muslim people. Their first significant contact with Islam occurred in the 16th century, long after the Central Asian peoples to the south were introduced to the religion during the Arab conquests of the 8th century. Sufi ascetics, who wandered across western Asia during the 16th century, introduced the Kazakhs to Sufism, or Islamic mysticism. The personal focus of Sufism was compatible with the Kazakhs’ nomadic way of life. The Kazakhs adopted Islam gradually, with their conversion only becoming complete in the early 19th century.

During the Soviet period, the officially atheistic Communist regime sought to restrict the practice of Islam because of its potential for creating organized dissident movements. Most of Kazakhstan’s mosques were forcibly shut down in the 1920s. The regime briefly relaxed its antireligious stance during World War II but then reinstated restrictions. In the mid-1980s the Soviet government lifted most of these restrictions, and the number of practicing Muslims in Kazakhstan began to increase considerably. The revival of Islam in Kazakhstan intensified after independence in 1991.

Uzbeks and Tatars are also Muslims. Altogether, 43 percent of the population in the republic is Muslim. The Slavic peoples of Kazakhstan are traditionally Orthodox Christians, and the Russian Orthodox Church is the largest Christian denomination in the republic. The Christian community also includes small numbers of Protestants (mainly Lutherans) and Roman Catholics.

Article key phrases:

Uzbeks, Tatars, Russian Orthodox Church, Soviet government, Muslim people, Lutherans, Orthodox Christians, western Asia, Roman Catholics, Christian community, practice of Islam, World War, independence, conversion, population, republic, restrictions, religion, century, south, potential


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