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'Black Is Only For Funerals!' Kazakh President Calls For Ban Against Islamic Attire

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (file photo)
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (file photo)

Black clothing is only for funerals, says Kazakhstan's president, who wants a legal ban on certain Islamic clothing -- such as body-covering black garments for women and so-called Salafi-style ankle-length pants for men.

In a meeting with the country's religious leaders in the capital, Astana, on April 9, Nursultan Nazarbaev expressed concern over what he described as a growing trend among young Kazakhs to opt for religious garb.

"Our young men grow beards and cut the length of their trousers [above the ankles]," he said, referring to styles of dress and appearance that are often associated with conservative Muslims who are branded as "Salafis" and portrayed by the authorities as followers of a potentially dangerous strand of Islam.

"The number of Kazakh girls who are fully covered with black clothing is on the rise," Nazarbaev said, blaming the trend on young people's "ignorance" and a lack of knowledge about true religious values.

Nazarbaev said it was "necessary" to work out a legal ban on such attire, which he said was "incompatible" with the traditions of the predominantly Muslim Central Asian country. "Kazakhs wear black garments only for funerals," Nazarbaev said.

He made no mention of banning other forms of Islamic dress worn in Kazakhstan.

'Dangerous' Trends

Nazarbaev, a staunchly secular, former-communist leader who has ruled the resources-rich state since 1989, said there were people who are "envious" of Kazakhstan's vast territories and natural wealth.

These people, he said, seek to incite discord in society through religious teachings alien to the Kazakh nation, Nazarbaev warned, urging the country's nearly 4,000 officially registered imams to help fight against the "dangerous" trends.

"We must combat the tendencies that pose threats to our statehood," he said. The Kazakh president's official website also pointed out that "alien religious teachings" have penetrated Kazakh society via the Internet.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (center) made his remarks on Islamic garb while meeting with the country's religious leaders in the capital, Astana, on April 19.

Kazakhstan banned the Islamic head scarf or the hijab in schools in 2016, along with all other clothing that "directly or indirectly propagates religion."

Kazakh authorities have increasingly expressed concern about religious extremism in the country, where several hundred people -- including some young families -- are estimated to have joined the Islamic State extremist group fighting in Syria and Iraq.

In June 2016, the government blamed a deadly attack in the northwestern city of Aqtobe on "followers of radical, nontraditional religious movements."

Authorities said eight people were killed when a group of suspected Islamic militants entered the city, raided a gun shop, and attacked an army unit. Aqtobe was also the site of what Kazakh authorities described as the country's first suicide attack, in 2011.

'Foreign Culture Disguised As Religion'

Islamic garments and other outward signs of religious observance have come under pressure elsewhere in Central Asia, where governments see the rising influence of the religion as a threat to state secularism.

In Kyrgyzstan, President Almazbek Atambaev has said that "foreign culture should not be imposed upon us in the guise of religion."

Tajikistan has officially banned the head-covering hijab in all public places and discourages men from growing long beards. Police reportedly often round up men with bushy beards and force them to shave.

Uzbekistan doesn't have a formal ban on the hijab or bushy beards, but some men with long beards have reportedly been barred from attending soccer games, and hijab-wearing women have allegedly been stopped by police for questioning in both the eastern Ferghana Province and the capital, Tashkent.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the region’s ongoing struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.