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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
05ALMATY1432
2005-04-12 11:47:00
UNCLASSIFIED
US Office Almaty
Cable title:  

GRAND MOSQUE OPENS IN ASTANA, MADRASSA TO COME

Tags:   PREL  PINR  KZ  POLITICAL 
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						UNCLAS  ALMATY 001432 

SIPDIS


STATE FOR EUR/CACEN (JMUDGE), DRL/IRF (NHEWETT) AND DRL/PHD
(PDAVIS)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PINR KZ POLITICAL
SUBJECT: GRAND MOSQUE OPENS IN ASTANA, MADRASSA TO COME



1. SUMMARY: On April 5, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
arranged a tour for diplomats of the new Grand Mosque and
Islamic Cultural Center in Astana. Moderate Islam is a
central part of traditional Kazakh culture, though years of
Soviet influence had a secularizing influence on Kazakhstani
society. The opening of the Grand Mosque and Islamic
Cultural Center plays an important symbolic role in
President Nazarbayev's vision for the new capital, Astana.
Whether the Islamic Center will play an important spiritual
and theological role remains to be seen. END SUMMARY



2. The impressive Islamic Center complex, located in the
new administrative area in Astana, is the second major
religious facility to open in Astana in the last year,
following the opening of a new synagogue complex in
September. President Nazarbayev, who takes pride in his role
as a supporter of Kazakhstan's religious diversity, formally
opened the center on March 22.



3. In 1999, President Nazarbayev and the Emir of Qatar
reached an agreement on construction of the Islamic Center.
The project, which cost $6.8 million, was funded by the
Qatari government, designed by a Libyan architect and built
by a Turkish company. A Kazakh artist designed the interior
of the mosque, incorporating a blend of Islamic holy
inscriptions and traditional Kazakh motifs. The new mosque
is the biggest in Kazakhstan, built to accommodate up to
5,000 worshipers at a time.



4. In addition to the mosque, the Islamic Center complex
will have a madrassa (currently under construction), which
will be the first full-fledged school for imams in
Kazakhstan. The chief mufti of Kazakhstan, based in Almaty,
will select the faculty from among locally and
internationally renowned teachers of Islam. According to the
GOK in Astana, the Islamic Institute in Almaty is the only
registered institution that provides religious education,
though it is not set up to provide full clerical training.
(Note: Post knows of several officially registered madrassas
in Southern Kazakhstan, although these do not provide
clerical training. There are also numerous unofficial
madrassas throughout Kazakhstan. Since these are not
registered, it is difficult to gauge the content of the
education and the extent to which any alumni are practicing
as clerics. End note.) According to the head imam of the
Astana Grand Mosque, most imams currently practicing in
Kazakhstan were trained outside Kazakhstan, in Uzbekistan,
Turkey, the Gulf states and other Arab countries.



5. Counterterrorism and human rights observers have noted
the need for moderate options for Islamic religious
education in Kazakhstan to counterbalance underground
madrassas and nonclerical institutes that preach a more
extreme version of Muslim doctrine and that may have
connections to international terrorist organizations. In
March 2004, Southern Kazakhstan Humanitarian Academy was
shut down by the Ministry of Education and Science when the
GOK discovered that the school, which offered nonclerical
religious education, had been founded by the Society of
Social Reforms of Kuwait (Jamyaat al-Islakh al-Ijtimayi), an
organization considered by the USG and GOK to have ties to
terrorism. At that time, the Ministry ruled that the
students of the academy should be transferred to other
institutions to let them to complete their education.



6. COMMENT: President Nazarbayev's ambitions for his
capital city, Astana, are being largely fulfilled, and the
new Grand Mosque fits well into those plans. The placement
of the mosque at the crossroads leading to the new
government center assures its visual prominence in the new
skyline. There are few opportunities for formal religious
education within Kazakhstan, forcing those who wish to study
theology to go abroad; they often bring home a more extreme
view of Islam than has traditionally been practiced in
Kazakhstan. The opening of a madrassa in the capital thus
provides a welcome opportunity for developing an indigenous
Muslim clergy that reflects Kazakhstan's traditions of
interreligious cooperation. The involvement of the GOK-
appointed chief mufti in the selection of faculty suggests
that the GOK will keep a close eye on the Astana madrassa in
order to ensure that it adheres to this tradition. Post
will continue to encourage the GOK to reach out to
unregistered madrassas and cooperate with them to bring them
into compliance with the registration laws and to expand the
options for clerical education within Kazakhstan. END
COMMENT



7. Dushanbe minimize considered.

ASQUINO


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