Religion in Kazakhstan
The majority of Kazakhstan's citizens are Sunni of the Hanafi school, traditionally including ethnic Kazakhs, who constitute about 63.6% of the population, as well as ethnic Uzbeks, Uighurs, and Tatars. Less than 1% are part of the Shafi`i (primarily Chechens) and Shi'a. There are a total of 2,300 mosques, all of them affiliated with the "Spiritual Association of Muslims of Kazakhstan", headed by a supreme mufti. The Eid al-Adha is recognized as a national holiday.
Less than 25% of the population of Kazakhstan is Russian Orthodox, traditionally including ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians. Other Christian groups include Roman Catholics, Protestants (Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Methodists, Mennonites and Seventh-day Adventists), Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. There are a total of 265 registered Orthodox churches, 93 Roman Catholic churches, and 543 Protestant churches and prayer houses. Christmas, rendered in the Russian Orthodox manner according to the Julian calendar, is recognized as a national holiday in Kazakhstan.
The country is multiethnic, with a long tradition of tolerance and secularism. Since independence, the number of mosques and churches has increased greatly. However, the population is sometimes wary of minority religious groups and groups that proselytize. There were several reports of citizens filing complaints with authorities after their family members became involved with such groups. Leaders of the four religious groups the government considers "traditional" – Islam, Russian Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Judaism – reported general acceptance and tolerance that other religious groups did not always enjoy.
The country has historically hosted a wide variety of ethnic groups with varying religions. Tolerance to other societies has become a part of the Kazakh culture. The foundation of an independent republic, following the disintegration of the USSR, has launched a great deal of changes in every aspect of people's lives. Religiosity of the population, as an essential part of any cultural identity, has undergone dynamic transformations as well.
After decades of suppressed culture, the people were feeling a great need to exhibit their ethnic identity – in part through religion. Quantitative research shows that for the first years after the establishment of the new laws, waiving any restrictions on religious beliefs and proclaiming full freedom of confessions, the country experienced a huge spike in religious activity of its citizens. Hundreds of mosques, synagogues, churches, and other religious structures were built in a matter of years. All represented religions benefited from increased number of members and facilities. Many confessions that were absent before independence made their way into the country, appealing to hundreds of people. The government supported this activity, and has done its best to provide equality among all religious organizations and their followers. In the late 1990s, however, a slight decline in religiosity occurred. The draft religion law being considered in June 2008 has raised international concern over whether there is an intention to meet general standards of freedom of religion and human rights.
Islam is the most commonly practiced religion in Kazakhstan; it was introduced to the region during the 9th century by the Arabs. Traditionally ethnic Kazakhs are Sunni Muslims who mainly follow the Hanafi school. There are few Ahmadi Muslims, who face persecution in the country. Kazakhs including other ethnic groups of Muslim background make up over 90 per cent of all Muslims. The southern region of the country has the highest concentration of self-identified practicing Muslims.
Christianity in Kazakhstan is the second most practiced religion after Islam. Most Christian citizens are Russians, and to a lesser extent Ukrainians and Belarusians, who belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. According to a 2009 national census, approximately 26% of the population of Kazakhstan identifies as Christian. 1.5 percent of the population is German, most of whom follow Roman Catholicism or Lutheranism. There are also many Presbyterians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, and Pentecostals. Methodists, Mennonites, and Mormons have also registered churches with the government. According to the 2009 census, there were 4,214,232 Christians in Kazakhstan.
The Bahá'í Faith in Kazakhstan began during the policy of oppression of religion in the former Soviet Union. Before that time, Kazakhstan, as part of the Russian Empire, would have had indirect contact with the Bahá'í Faith as far back as 1847. Following the entrance of pioneers the community grew to be the largest religious community after Islam and Christianity, though only a few percent of the nation. By 1994 the National Spiritual Assembly of Kazakhstan was elected and the community has begun to multiply its efforts across various interests. The Association of Religion Data Archives (relying on World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated some 6,000 Bahá'ís in 2005.
Hindus in Kazakhstan are mainly of the ISKCON sect and by Diaspora Hindus from India. The Indian community in Central Asia, which comprises Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, numbers only 2732 out of a total population of 55.5 million. It consists mainly of NRIs.
Freedom of religion and religious tolerance
Kazakhstan has a very diverse and stable religious background. However, some reported occurrences of persecution against Hare Krishnas and Jehovah's Witnesses for proselytizing have raised concern in the international community.
Article 22 of the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan states that "everyone has the right to a freedom of conscience.” On May 18, 2011, Kazakhstan President adopted a decree establishing the Agency for Religious Affairs. The mission of the Agency is to coordinate interaction between the government, religious groups and civil society in order to ensure religious freedom in Kazakhstan.
In 2003 Kazakhstan established Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions that aims to facilitate religious dialogue ensuring inter-religious tolerance and freedom in Kazakhstan.
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