Newly established Kazakh Ministry of Religious Issues and Civil Society is taking steps to legally ban the Salafi branch of Islam, RFE/RL reported on October 14, citing Minister Nurlan Ermekbaev.
The move comes amid rising concerns that home-grown radicalism could be on the rise in the Central Asian country. According to Ermekbaev, Salafism “poses a destructive threat to Kazakhstan”. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has blamed on Salafists a series of deadly attacks in June in the northwestern city of Aktobe. At least 200 Kazakhs are fighting alongside terrorist groups in Syria, according to some estimates.
Salafi Islam has been branded as extremist and banned in other post-Soviet countries such as Tajikistan. The Tajik ban on Salafism, however, has also been used by authorities to crack down on the country’s population in attempts to silence opposition. As such, Kazakhstan’s intentions to ban Salafism raises questions about the purpose of the ban.
Salafists follow a strict form of Sunni Islam and do not recognize other branches of Islam, such as Shi'ism and Sufism. The majority of Central Asian Muslims are followers of Hanafi Islam, which is a more moderate branch of Sunnism.
Kazakh authorities are mulling stronger measures to prevent terrorist attacks from taking place. According to the head of security services Vladimir Zhumakanov, Astana is looking to increase prison sentences for such offences and tighten control of the circulation of firearms. Internal Affairs Minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov suggested that citizenship be stripped away from people who are found guilty of terrorism.
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