Religious Literacy – pledge of social security

Nov 16. Kazpravda

By Bektur Kadyrov, Natalia KURPYAKOVA, Yulia Polonskaya

Religious Literacy - pledge of social securityYesterday the Gumilev Eurasian National University hosted the II Forum of Kazakhstan religious scholars.

The forum, organized by the RK Agency for religions and the Ministry of education and science, was attended by representatives of state agencies, MPs, Kazakhstan religious scientists, theologians, teachers, students and undergraduates, studying religion, religious associations, public organizations and Kazakhstan media.

Opening the II Forum of theologians, Kairat Lama Sharif – chairman of the RK Agency for religions, moderator of the plenary session – read out the greetings from the state secretary Mukhtar Kul-Muhammed. Kazakhstan has earned the reputation of a peaceful multi-religious country, the letter says. The task of religious scholars and theologians is to inculcate moral values to the youth.

Kairat Lama Sharif made a presentation “State-confessional relations in Kazakhstan: Problems and Outlook”.

– Cooperation between the state and religious communities is one of the most pressing tasks of our time, – he said. – The principles of their relationship are a clear indicator of the degree of freedom of religion. Our priorities in this area are defined. The state policy in religion should contain constitutional principles of freedom of conscience and equality of all religions before the law, interests of national security, protection and development of historical and cultural heritage of Kazakhstan people and traditional cultural values.

Referring to the current condition and outlook for development of the state-confessional relations, Kairat Lama Sharif reminded that October 25, 2011, the Law “On religious activities and religious organizations” came into force. Another timely measure was registration of religious associations. As of January 1, 2011 the country had 4,551 religious associations. After the re-registration, which completed October 25, 2012, their number was reduced to 3 088.

The speaker explained that the reduction was due to elimination of minority religious groups. Religious associations “Christ Brotherhood”, “The Church of the Last Testament”, “Alzhan – House of Salvation”, “Christian Science Society” and others were not re-registered. Several previously existing religious organizations received negative conclusions from theological experts. On the basis of the experts’ conclusions a new classification of religious organizations was offered. If earlier there were 46 confessions, now there are 17 only.

– The scientists will analyze the key trends and outlook for development of the religious situation under the law “On religious activities”. It is necessary to focus on the challenges that may arise in religion area. The elaborated offers should be the ground for further development of Kazakhstan model of state-confessional relations, – he went on.

Kairat Lama Sharif talked on the problem of increasing legal awareness and transparency of religious communities.

– All of them declare that their goal is to meet the spiritual needs of the faithful, the moral perfection of the individual and society. I am convinced that the state and society also have the right to make demands on religious organizations.

Transparency of financial activities of a number of the organizations is questionable, and the order in financial and economic sphere is required, which is regulated by the Law “On Non-Profit Organizations”. According to the law, all religious organizations are non-profit ones, the structure of income, information on size and composition of the property, costs, number and structure of employees and wages can not be the commercial confidentiality. International practice is also based on transparency of financial activities of religious associations.

Kairat Lama Sharif paid attention to prevention of extremism, using religious slogans.

– We have to give an intellectual repulse to extremist ideas. Inhuman ideology of fanaticism and radicalism must be unveiled to show that these ideas distort the true nature of religious doctrine, – he said.

– We need a system of training and education, able to show inferiority of extremism and guide the energy of young people to the creative direction, – Kairat Lama Sharif marked.

Publication and study of works of the Hanafi school of Islam, as well as the works of the representatives of the Kazakh clerisy of late XIX – early XX centuries are becoming topical.

Interaction with the experts is no less significant. The RK Agency for religions has the necessary scientific potential: it has the Research and Analytical Center for Religion, the International Center of Cultures and Religions. Among their tasks are attraction to research projects, expert work, participation in conferences and workshops of scientists from all over Kazakhstan.

However, there is a need to improve the research methodology. The scientific results should be both of theoretical and practical value. Unfortunately, despite a large number of monographs, dissertations, and case studies, their content does not always meet the requirements of the time. In this regard, expectations are tied with the Congress of theologians, headed by famous scientist and Senate deputy Garifolla Yesim.

The Congress should implement the projects on revealing and prevention of potential conflict aspects of a religious situation at the national and regional levels.

The researchers are to focus on formation of scientific and methodological criteria of teaching the course “Fundamentals of Religion” and to improve the level of Religious Studies in general. It would be useful to discuss and systematize religious teaching experience in secondary and higher schools.

– Inter-religious harmony is an indispensable part of social stability. We hope for further creative work and cooperation with religious scientists, representatives of religious organizations to improve Kazakhstan’s model of state-confessional relations, – concluded Kairat Lama Sharif.

Kazakhstan Vice-Minister of Education and Science Murat Abenov focused on interaction of science, education and religion for sustainable development of Kazakhstan society. The role of expert communities is growing and it is encouraging that the country has formed a structure, uniting scientists, theologians, humanists and legal experts, – said M. Abenov.

A new model of state-confessional relations is under creation. Religion as a human and spiritual support and science as a system of rational explanation of the world structure can influence the public mentality, he went on.

– Kazakhstan Ministry of Education and Science pays special attention to the tasks, set to the researchers and funds various grant projects. A kind of ideological unity of religion and science, formed in Kazakhstan, has become possible largely due to the history and cultural traditions of the main ethnic group as well as other ethnic communities. The state is constantly improving the interaction with other religions. Kazakhstan is a secular state, – continued M. Abenov – providing equal opportunities for citizens to choose their religion.

M. Abenov underlined importance of the media in shaping the public opinion. We need TV programs with religious content and elaborate methodology and ideology of such broadcasting.

M. Abenov expressed the view that the “Religion Study” subject should be mandatory in order to form the idea of diversity of religions, their cultural role and functions in the past and present, as well as the use of religion for political purposes. This subject is to help young people to understand the system of human values as the base matrix, the speaker said.

With the introduction of religious studies in the high school program, the lack of competence of many teachers and even the attempts to inculcate their own preferences were revealed. Therefore, it is necessary to organize a gradual re-training of the teachers with obligatory certification. It is advisable to organize an online resource for them. Relevant training and retraining, involving journalists, psychologists, lawyers should be held.

Zarema Shaukenova – director of the Institute of Philosophy, Political Science and Religious Studies under the ministry of education and science – made a presentation “Systematic approaches and social technologies against religious extremism”.

– The problem of religious extremism reflects the global trend and shows that this phenomenon has no geographical boundaries. We think, it is more correct to speak not of a religious, but of a pseudo-religious extremism, as religion, as such, does not have an extremist function, – said Z. Shaukenova. – Kazakhstan has the task to keep the unique ethnic and religious identity as a factor in sustainable development.

We need to improve preventive mechanisms of response to potential protest manifestations of discontent that might undermine civil cohesion and confidence in the state power, public awareness on possible extremization of the situation caused by pseudo-religious ideology.

Zarema Shaukenova also noted that in place of the closed terrorist sites, alternatives to them are needed, featuring social issues and aimed at different target groups of active Internet users. Special attention should be paid to the general course of religious studies at schools.

Director of the International Center of Cultures and Religions Professor Aydar Abuov, focused on preventing the spread of religious extremism through Internet and gave a few specific examples of calls for creation of caliphate and jihad, stressed the need for Spiritual Administration of Kazakhstan Muslims, Ministries of education and science, culture and information to intensify educational efforts, in order to neutralize extremist calls for radical religious movements.

Discussions continued at the panels: “Religious Literacy – pledge of security of society”, “The role of public institutions in the prevention of religious extremism”, “The role of traditional Islam in the prevention of religious extremism in Kazakhstan”, “The role of advisory-rehabilitation centers in prevention of destructive influence of religious organizations in society.”

The forum brought up the aspects of state-confessional relations, the part of education and science in combating religious extremism, other related topics.

It was concurred that to root out the manifestations of religious radicalism it is necessary to put up reliable barriers to the penetration of extremist ideology in the public mind, to eliminate conditions leading to the spread of enmity and intolerance. Efforts of scientists, religious and community organizations, the media and government have to be pooled up for this end.

The final resolution, adopted at the forum along with the relevant recommendations, calls for spreading the ideas of tolerance, respect for religious values and beliefs.

Results of the re-registration of religious associations were announced during the press conference.

The deputy chairman of the Kazakh Agency for Religious Affairs Marat Azilhanov and representatives of religious associations described them as positive. No complaints were received so far, and the number of registered organizations at that reduced by 32%. It was stressed that this process is not imposition of any rules, but the requirement of modern society, which wants to be protected against the danger of religious extremism and terrorism. Therefore, the need to undergo the procedure of re-registration was received with understanding.

The head of Won-Buddhist religious association in Almaty Larissa Palagina, called Kazakhstan a model of harmonious fruitful cooperation between the state and religious denominations. This is a pledge of national unity.