By tradition the Kazaks are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school,
and the Russians are Russian Orthodox. In 1994, some 47 percent
of the population was Muslim, 44 percent was Russian Orthodox,
and 2 percent was Protestant, mainly Baptist. Some Jews, Catholics,
and Pentacostalists also live in Kazakstan; a Roman Catholic diocese
was established in 1991. As elsewhere in the newly independent
Central Asian states, the subject of Islam's role in everyday
life, and especially in politics, is a delicate one in Kazakstan.
Islam in the Past
As part of the Central Asian population and the Turkic world,
Kazaks are conscious of the role Islam plays in their identity,
and there is strong public pressure to increase the role that
faith plays in society. At the same time, the roots of Islam in
many segments of Kazak society are not as deep as they are in
neighboring countries. Many of the Kazak nomads, for instance,
did not become Muslims until the eighteenth or even the nineteenth
century, and urban Russified Kazaks, who by some counts constitute
as much as 40 percent of the indigenous population, profess discomfort
with some aspects of the religion even as they recognize it as
part of their national heritage.
Soviet authorities attempted to encourage a controlled form
of Islam as a unifying force in the Central Asian societies while
at the same time stifling the expression of religious beliefs.
Since independence, religious activity has increased significantly.
Construction of mosques and religious schools has accelerated
in the 1990s, with financial help from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and
Egypt. Already in 1991, some 170 mosques were operating, more
than half of them newly built; at that time, an estimated 230
Muslim communities were active in Kazakstan
Data as of March 1996