Author: Adilet Beisenov
Adilet Beisenov is an MA candidate in the Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies program at Georgetown University. He earned his undergraduate degree at Nazarbayev University in 2021, majoring in Political Science and International Relations. He focuses on such areas as state-building, public opinion, and nationalism in Kazakhstan.
Since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Kazakhstan has undergone an Islamic revival or transformation. The number of mosques keeps increasing—it has risen from just 59 in 1989, to 269 in 1993, 2,300 in 2011, and 2,716 in 2021.1 Currently, there are five mosques for every six schools in the country.2 Despite this, Kazakhstan is a secular nation-state where religious political parties are banned by the constitution. Prayer rooms and religious clothing are forbidden in state and educational institutions out of concern for religious minorities. Muslim movements and activities are controlled through the SAMK (Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan) to account for problematic ideological divergence, which was founded in 1990.
Despite being secular leaders, members of the Kazakhstani executive branch have recently started to showcase a more religious identity. Firstly, in an official visit to Saudi Arabia in 2022, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev performed the umrah (lesser hajj, or pilgrimage), which was covered by both state and independent media.3 He also organized receptions of auzashar (commonly known as iftar elsewhere), the fast-breaking Ramadan evening meal, in both the Akorda4 and several Kazakh cities in 2022 and 2023.5 Former President Nursultan Nazarbayev performed a Friday prayer in September 2022 inside the newly built Grand Mosque in the capital Astana, which is the biggest in Central Asia (and among the top-10 biggest globally, with a whopping 235,000-person capacity).6 Even though Nazarbayev insisted that not a single tenge from the state budget had been spent on the opulent edifice, an investigation by ProTenge showed that its construction was handled by a foundation closely related to Nazarbayev and Fettah Tamince’s Sembol company.7
It was not Nazarbayev’s transfer of power to his successor Tokayev in 20198 that caused this seemingly new vector in the approach to Islam, however. In fact, the embrace of more openly Muslim rhetoric by both the Nazarbayev and Tokayev administrations can be discerned as starting in the 2010s. This paper shows how this change was performed by the state, as well as what prompted the government to start identifying more with Islam on the nation-building level. I argue that Kazakhstan’s approach towards local Islamic institutions changed from an unregulated treatment in the 1990s and 2000s, to an increasingly strict delineation of what “traditional” Kazakh Islam is and should be over the last decade (2012 to present), carried out through SAMK. The timing is not accidental: the years 2011–2012 saw the first series of terrorist attacks in modern Kazakhstan, which pushed the government towards tight regulation of Islamic institutions, overseeing the activities of mosques and Muslim civil society. The authorities’ latest policy has been to secularize and ethnicize “traditional,” non-puritanical Hanafi Islam as part of the Kazakh ethnic identity, which is part of a larger, ongoing process of ethno-nationalization (political domination by ethnic Kazakhs) and away from the previously preferred official rhetoric that stressed non-ethnic, civic Kazakhstani unity.
Muslim Identity as an Essential Part of Kazakhness
Seventy percent of the Kazakhstani population is Muslim.9 Most ethnic Kazakhs, who likewise constitute 70% of the Kazakhstani population, profess the Hanafi10 variation of Sunni Islam. Kazakh Muslimness, however, is shaped by a relative lack of scripturalist tradition due to a rural, nomadic past as well as subdued religiosity in Soviet times. To illustrate, ancestor and grave/saint worship, elements of pre-Muslim belief systems, are essential to Kazakh Islam but seen as forms of idolatry by fundamentalists outside of Central Asia. Another factor shaping Kazakh Muslim traditions is the history of Sufism—a mystical philosophy characterized by a personal connection to God—in medieval Turkestan (part of which lies in southern Kazakhstan). Kazakhstan’s Turkestan region11 has two prominent Sufi mausoleums, sites of pilgrimage and worship.
With independence, Islam quickly became a defining feature of the emerging ethnic Kazakh national identity. As Yemelianova claims, “Not just Nazarbayev’s government but opposition parties which were formed in the early 1990s referred to Islam as an integral component of the Kazakh nation in their programmes.”12 Nazarbayev and smaller elites had to counterbalance this with a civic Kazakhstani national identity due to the country’s multiethnic makeup and a large Slavic/Russian presence in the initial sovereign decades, particularly in the more northern regions.13 As more Kazakhs came back to the country as repatriates and more Russians and non-Kazakhs left throughout the years, the state’s policy started to favor more openly the titular ethnic group, which now constitutes a clear majority at 70% of the population. As Laruelle sums it up, “Officially, the Kazakhstani state is a multinational one, celebrating the diversity of ethnic groups living on its territory, while at the same time insisting on the primus inter pares (Latin: first among equals) role of ethnic Kazakhs in creating the state, its legitimacy, and its cultural symbols and values.”14 This may be one reason why Muslimness has gradually become a more pronounced theme at the state level. Let us look at the other ones, beyond demographics.
Yearly Messages: Avoiding Muslimness andSingling Out Extremism as the Root of Problems
Kazakh presidents have long avoided explicitly talking about Muslimness in official speeches. Consider Nazarbayev and Tokayev’s yearly messages, which are used for agenda-setting and directed at the Kazakhstani public. From 1997 to 2022, these speeches regularly featured the words extremism, terrorism, or radicalism, both with and without the word religious, as things to avoid for Kazakhstan without directly mentioning Islam. Indeed, words with roots pertaining to “Islam” or “Muslim” appeared only 19 times in 28 total messages, out of which only a mere five signified Muslimness as a trait of Kazakhstan: once pertaining to the country’s predominantly Muslim population (1997), once to Islamic traditions (2006), twice to the membership in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (2012), and once to being part of the Muslim Ummah (community) (2012).
The remaining 14 usages described Middle Eastern countries when it came to Kazakhstan’s cooperation with them. Hence, Muslimness in these messages was almost entirely absent from an inward, identity-building point of view. Underscoring this trend of secularizing religion is the fact that in the 2006 and 2012 instances, Nazarbayev was quick to reiterate that Kazakhstan was a secular state. In 2006, he said, “We respect and develop the best traditions of Islam as well as those of other global and traditional religions, but we are building a modern secular state.”15 And in 2012, he stated: “We are proud to be part of the Muslim Ummah. These are our traditions. However, we must not forget that we have the traditions of a secular society as well, that Kazakhstan is a secular state.”16
The words “extremism,” “terrorism,” and “radicalism,” which implied or explicitly stated their religious varieties, on the other hand, occurred 89 times, dwarfing the 19 explicitly Muslim words. In the context of Kazakhstan and Central Asia, leaders imply Islamic extremism when using these negative modifiers in combination with the word “religious,” even if they do not state it explicitly. At the semantic level, the fact that the presidents never utter the three words with “Islamic” or “Muslim” also relays the official view that the extremists are not real Muslims—they are simply not referred to as such. The words “extremism,” “terrorism,” and “radicalism” are described as pseudo-religious and criminal, lacking an ideological base. In this vein, it is observable that the state prioritizes excluding religion from politics (thereby maintaining a secular state) and securitizing Muslim piousness (that is, monitoring its conformity to “traditional” state Islam to deter extremism). The latter enables the regime to shore up its political monopoly by labeling protesters or dissenters as terrorists. For example, during the January 2022 protests in Kazakhstan, Tokayev posted and then quickly deleted his infamous English-language tweets about there being 20,000 terrorists:
Gangsters and terrorists very well trained, organized and commanded by the special centre. Some of them were speaking non-Kazakh languages. There were at least six waves of attacks of terrorists at Almaty, total amount of them 20 thousand. They were beating and killing policemen and young soldiers, putting fire at administrative buildings, looting private premises and shops, killing secular citizens, raping young women. In my basic view: no talk with the terrorists, we must kill them.17
In this tweet, Tokayev claimed that the terrorists were heard speaking non-Kazakh languages, underscoring the state’s view that Islamic extremism is incompatible with Kazakhstan’s “traditional” Islamic identity.18 The validity of his statement about the alleged radicals, however, is suspect at best. On the one hand, clearly prepared groups of armed and unarmed men were engaging in riots and looting—even circulating videos to attest to it. Nevertheless, it could be that these men were rural dwellers from poor socioeconomic backgrounds directing their frustrations at the urban way of life, or criminal gangs hired by competing clans in feuds for political power.19 The Islamic extremist narrative has no substantial evidence—no radical insignia or slogans can be discerned on any of the footage despite reports by the authorities of two policeman beheadings (an execution technique deployed by and associated with Jihadists), and a January 5 call to turn protests into Jihad by a Syrian-based Kazakh extremist group, the Soldiers of the Caliphate.20
Having analyzed reports of alleged Islamic terrorism, Kudaibergenova and Laruelle suggest that:
the authorities’ emphasis on Islamic violence: (1) was necessary to justify CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization] involvement, (2) is part of a classic propaganda effort on the part of the Central Asian states to label enemies as Islamists and (3) is designed to divert the public debate from the more sensitive question of dissent among ruling elites and the role of the security services in the violence.21
When it comes to the second point, the authors allude to a favored tactic of President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan (who ruled from the onset of independence in 1991 until his death in 2016) and President Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan (who has been in power since 1994); yet doing so has so far been rare in Kazakhstan, where both presidents have preferred to shift blame for “manufactured” protests and demonstrations onto dissidents such as Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former oligarch and functionary who fell out with Nazarbayev in the late 1990s to early 2000s, and his opposition movement DVK (Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan). This is a consequence of an established state policy of excluding explicitly religious groups from politics. The latest attempts to insert the “correct” type of Islam into the accepted ethnonational/cultural identity, however, could change this entrenched dynamic in the future.
Lack of Regulation and Its Culmination in the form of the 2011–2012 Terrorist Attacks as the Origin of the Notion of “Traditional” Kazakh Muslimness
This government-dictated stark distinction between “traditional” and “nontraditional” Kazakh Islam, which led to regulation of religious institutions and large-scale funding for deradicalization, is a relatively new phenomenon. Control of Muslimness in Kazakhstan was weak at best before 2012—various Islamic movements of ideologically different and conflicting branches spread and operated freely, which allowed the more extreme iterations of Salafism/Wahhabism22 to gain followers, often among the ranks of socioeconomically vulnerable (and often criminally active), religiously ignorant youth easily swayed by pressure, existing networks, and internet propaganda.23 Such a passive, or even dismissive, approach towards Islam and religion in an authoritarian country like Kazakhstan may seem counterintuitive, but not surprising if we recall that Nazarbayev and his closest men were party apparatchiks, who could be described during the first independent decade as areligious at most. Nazarbayev claimed, in an interview for the Russian TV program Formula of Power with journalist Mikhail Gusman, “From birth, from childhood we are all brought up in an atheistic spirit … To say that today I have become very religious would be lying to those who listen to me” while recalling his experience in Mecca during an official visit to Saudi Arabia in 2004.24
The decisive factor contributing to drawing clear lines in Kazakhstani Islam was a series nine terrorist attacks in 2011–2012 in the cities of Aktobe, Atyray, Taraz, and Almaty.25 The May 2011 attack in Aktobe was the first extremist-terrorist attack in independent Kazakhstan26 — a watershed moment even though the only casualty was the suicide bomber.27 According to Marat Shibutov, a political scientist and current member of the leading Amanat Party, and Vyacheslav Abramov, the general director of the vlast.kz news agency, seven attacks were prevented by the state in 2008 and 2009.28 They posit that the beginning of the 2000s signified a “recruiting” period, during which Kazakhstani citizens would be seen fighting for terrorists abroad in Central Asia, which was followed by a formation of “local terrorists” in 2005–2011, who carried out several attacks in 2011–2012.29 The 280 billion tenge (equivalent to US $1 billion of that time) budget allocated twice for the National Security Committee30 to combat extremism (first for the five-year period from 2013–2017, and again for that from 2018–2022) was a reaction to this spate of attacks as well as to the presence of Kazakhstani citizens in the ranks of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) amid the Syrian Civil War.31 Part of this money was spent on operation Jusan: in 2018–2019, 524 Kazakhstani citizens, mostly women with children who followed their husbands to Syria, were evacuated to Kazakhstan by the NSC, and underwent deradicalization programs designed to reintegrate them into society.32 A look at Nazarbayev’s yearly messages also supports this argument: his December 2012 message33 mentioned the religious types of “extremism,” “radicalism,” and “terrorism” 16 times, which is the second-highest index among all 28 messages after the 2000 message with its 17 mentions34 for the period from 1997–2022. For comparison, the previous seven messages combined (March 2006–January 2012) featured only 13 mentions of the subject.
A great example of the lax regulation of Muslim institutions prior to 2012 and Yemelianova’s35 argument of new elites unknowingly teaching Salafi practices after receiving foreign Islamic education is the case of Mukhamedzhan Tazabek, a Kazakh poet36 and founder of the Islamic television channel Asyl Arna, now known as Talim TV.37 The channel had been spreading Salafi ideas in both Kazakh and Russian ever since 2007, following Tazabek’s having spent some six to eight months in Saudi Arabia and listening to Saudi and Egyptian preachers.
In 2020, Tazabek finally repented and admitted that Salafism was a “sect” used by “certain political forces,” going on to say, “unfortunately, the results of SAMK’s work were not yet noticeable, unified approaches had not yet been formed, their famous preachers have not yet appeared … Praise to the Almighty, now there are enough preachers from the SAMK who fully meet all our needs. Perhaps they weren’t here before, but now there are enough of them.”38 This quote summarizes the work that SAMK has done since 2011–2012 to “correct” the more fundamentalist religious nonconformists, compared with the lack of such work being done beforehand. As Tazabek puts it, “Over time, communicating with scientists, experts, including talks about Al-Maturidi,39 over the past seven or eight years I have dotted all the i’s and [Supreme Mutfi] Nauryzbay Otpenov has put on the last dot,”40 describing his path towards becoming a “true” Kazakh Muslim. In 2020, Asyl Arna was finally shut down because it was not controlled by the government-sanctioned SAMK. Its successor channel, Talim TV, is less Islamic and focuses more on Kazakh customs, as well as social and cultural topics.41 In 2021, SAMK also launched its own Islamic television channel, Munara (from the Kazakh word, of Arabic origin: minaret) TV, which aims to increase religious literacy and propagate among young viewers such values as humanity, ethics, and patriotism.42
SAMK is the key tool with which the state is realizing its vision of Kazakh Muslimness. Its website offers an array of materials on Muslim piousness in Kazakh (in Cyrillic, Latin, and even Arabic scripts) and in Russian. Mosques started to be regulated through SAMK after the attacks: in 2012–2013, a Tatar-Bakshir mosque in Petropavlovsk and the Nurdaulet mosque in Aktobe were threatened with closure if they did not submit to SAMK.43 The justification was a new law on the registration of religious associations passed on October 11, 2011—just a few months after the first two terrorist events in May and July. Similarly, Salafism was explicitly recognized as a dangerous movement by SAMK in July 2011: then-Press Secretary Ongar Omirbek claimed that the state had “recently” closed two institutions that trained Salafists, one of which was a Saudi Arabian cultural center in Almaty, noting that Salafism had become especially pervasive in Kazakhstan’s western regions. In his own words, “Salafi missionaries came from Arab countries [and] Iran to these regions; there they influenced the local population. But our authorities were not paying attention to it.”44 This quote is another testament to the view that the regime’s neglectful approach towards the formation of Islamic identity prior to the attacks was deemed, in retrospect, to have permitted a proliferation of more extreme elements.
The state’s pushback against puritanical foreign brands of Islam, which keep being updated and honed, included a ban on “destructive” apparel in public spaces in 2018. Written as an amendment to the law on religious activities and associations, it ostensibly includes a ban on face-covering clothing and an otherwise vague definition of what else qualifies as destructive clothing. People seen in face-covering clothes can be subjected to a fine of 150,000 tenge ($320).45 The laws proposed by the Kazakhstani legislature concern how women dress and look, as opposed to how men do.
Nazarbayev, Tokayev, and Otpenov’s Didactic Messages on Muslimness
Amendments at the legislative level and public denunciations of terrorism are regularly accompanied by statements by Nazarbayev, Tokayev, and SAMK muftis,46 which feature notions of “traditional” Kazakh Muslimness and promote moderate Islam. Consider the current head mufti Otpenov’s view on Jihad, a term usually associated with a holy war waged on nonbelievers. Before becoming head mufti, he said in an interview in 201847 that terrorists take the words “fight in the cause of Allah”48 out of context in the Quran, because such verses were revealed during wartime. But contemporary extremists use them to justify their launching of wars during peacetime, and thus deceive the religiously ignorant. As he puts it, “Holy war is to protect your homeland. Right now, the defense of the homeland is that a person must do good for his homeland. For example, building houses and roads. And as the Prophet [Muhammad] tells us, the greatest Jihad is to fight against yourself.”49
Similarly, in a 2022 interview with zakon.kz, Otpenov stated that even though most Muslims in Kazakhstan are Hanafi, he lamented the fact that many young people adhere to “the nontraditional direction of Islam and choose the wrong paths. It is necessary to seriously work with such people, explain to them the reasons for their delusions and direct them to the right path. In this regard, SAMK is constantly working to promote true spiritual values.”50 Thus, he summarized the role of SAMK in the post-2011–2012 era. One of Tokayev’s 2020 tweets is also telling in this regard: “The muftiyat [SAMK] should be a center that unites the Muslims of Kazakhstan of different ethnicities. The state supports the work of SAMK against the foreign currents that distort Islamic teachings and deny the history and traditions of our people.”51 One can easily observe why the government deemed such propagandistic work necessary after the 2011–2012 terrorist attacks and its learning about Kazakhstani citizens among the ranks of ISIS.
As an example of a quote closer to the flashpoint, here is a statement by Yerzhan Mayamerov, the head mufti elected in 2013 who succeeded Absattar Derbisali (who had held the post for the 13 years since 2000), in the wake of the 2011–2012 attacks:
When we declared independence in the 1990s, many religious sects appeared along with various spiritual movements. Since at that time we had almost no religious scholars, religious figures, theologians, people could not understand, distinguish one from the other. Now we are reaping the fruits of that freedom. … We must revive and purify our traditional beliefs, remember and restore the traditions of Islam that have been characteristic of our people for centuries. It is necessary to teach this to the youth of today, not to hide from it.52
A mouthpiece of the regime, the mufti formulated the root of the problem: the decades immediately following independence allowed too much liberty for various Islamic movements, which included extreme ones, and essentially “diluted” the supposedly genuine centuries-long Kazakh Islamic traditions.
Nazarbayev is especially adept at providing vivid and eloquent examples of how “foreign” Islam is alien to Kazakh culture: “Fascination with radical Islam is the way to the Middle Ages. Now certain external forces are recruiting young people, forcing them to go astray from the true path of Islam. If we listen to them, we will not only have to force our sisters and daughters to hide their faces, but we will also stop sitting with them at the same tablecloth.”53 His reasoning is that, unlike in the Middle East, Kazakh Muslim women have never covered their faces,54 and secondly, if Kazakhs adhere to “foreign” Islam, they will be forced to violate the workings of traditional family-wide gatherings. The concept of dastarkhan (tablecloth)55 holds a high status among Kazakhs, a principal topic when it comes to toasts and well-wishes.
There are many similar quotes that explicitly state or at least imply an ideological conflict between Salafism and Kazakh culture. For the sake of brevity, consider these two by Nazarbayev: “Kazakhstani Muslim religiosity is more calm, tolerant, secular. … The Quran says that only Allah should be worshiped. But we, knowing the seven generations of our ancestors,56 being Muslims, also worship the spirits of ancestors. I don’t see anything wrong with that,”57 and “Because of ignorance, our young men grow beards and cut their trousers. More Kazakh women completely cover themselves in black robes. This does not correspond to our traditions. It is necessary to work out the issue of prohibiting this at the legislative level. Kazakhs wear black when they mourn.”58 In other words, Nazarbayev and Tokayev profess that Salafi Islam is clashing with the traditional Kazakh way of life while also portraying the former as backward and less peaceful.
Tokayev has made similar distinctions. For instance, he stated that “Kazakhstan has every opportunity to become a territory for the development of enlightened Islam … Radical groups are pushing the Islamic world onto the path of isolation and backwardness. Islam rejects extremes and bigotry.”59 He has also said that, “For many centuries, our ancestors professed Islam, which harmoniously combines Sharia norms with the national way of life … Our duty is to protect and honor the traditions of our ancestors.”60 Tokayev holds up Kazakhstan as a platform for progressive Islam in the first instance (directed at an external Eurasian audience at the first Forum of Muslim Scholars of Eurasia, held in Astana), and harnesses the strength of ancestor reverence in Kazakh culture in the second example (directed at the domestic Kazakh audience during a meeting with the local governor of the Atyrau Region).
After succeeding Nazarbayev, Tokayev claimed that he was “naturally” Muslim, but visited the mosque only on holidays and was not of the kind who prayed five times per day—a standard picture of a “casual” Kazakh Muslim.61 His Twitter account, which was created in 2011 when he was serving at the UN as the Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament (2011–2013), is another example of moderate progressive Muslimness. His Islam-related tweets were mostly in Kazakh and consisted of standard congratulations on Muslim holidays. In May 2019 he tweeted, “My sincere congratulations to the entire Muslim Ummah on the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan …”62 Moreover, he made denunciations of terrorists around the world, blaming them for bastardizing Islam, in 2014 and 2015: “Terrorist groups like Boko Haram compromise Islam and should be stopped by all means. #BringBackOurGirls. Education is priority,”63 and “Somalian terrorists heinously killed 148 unprotected, defenseless Kenyan students. A matter of grave concern. Another compromise of Islam.”64 These messages show his concerns as a Muslim believer about the reputation of Islam and mimic familiar local discourses on what “real” Islam is or should be.
This research paper has shown the evolution of Kazakhstan’s approach towards its Muslimness and Islamic institutions. This has changed from an undefined and unregulated stance before 2012 to a far more wide-ranging and rigid policy afterwards through the policies of SAMK, which seeks to instill moderate Hanafi Muslimness as the “traditional” form of Kazakh religiosity. This “traditional” Kazakh Islam is put at odds with the “foreign,” puritanical Salafi and Wahhabi branches, particularly the Jund al-Khilafah group (The Soldiers of the Caliphate), which in official narratives are blamed for several terrorist attacks in 2011, 2012, and 2016.65 In this manner, the themes of securitization and the threat of religious extremism are the reasons Kazakh authorities had to come up with the notions of “traditional” and “foreign” or “nontraditional” Islam. Islam continues to be strictly confined to the cultural as opposed to the political sphere. Nazarbayev and Tokayev’s latest Muslim images serve as paternalistic identities and exemplary pictures of Kazakh Muslimness.
With the relative success of the new direction (no further terrorist attacks having taken place since 2016), Tokayev will strive to keep the religious fervor, now assisted by the state itself, apolitical and continue the policy of balancing between secularism and Islam. Currently religion is confined to the private sphere. At least two contrasting future developments are possible. The pessimistic one is that as Islam continues to solidify itself as a culture-defining trait of ethnic Kazakhs, Muslims who feel disenfranchised (the government does not permit religious political parties and forbids active observance of faith in secular institutions such as in the public sector) might start pushing for political representation and more religiously-tolerant policies. While the Kazakh administration promotes moderate Muslimness, an ongoing Islamization could, in the long run, hurt the rights and exacerbate the social positions of women, children and gender minorities. Such a scenario of secular backsliding would coexist well with the current conservative-paternalistic framework of the Kazakh society. The authorities, however, would oppose such a development because it would hurt Kazakhstan’s image of a modernizing, democratizing secular state and the benefits that accompany it in the international arena. This leads to the second, more probable scenario, wherein the regime successfully inserts their vision of moderate Kazakh Muslimness into the structure of a secular nation-state given that the population is becoming more religious anyway. The question is the extent of execution.
 “Novaja Mechet’ Otkrylas’ V Stolichnom Mikrorajone Koktal,” Astana TV (website), October 7, 2022, https://astanatv.kz/ru/news/72453/; A. Mustafayeva, “Islamskoe Vozrozhdenie V Kazahstane V 90-e Gody ХХ Veka,” Vestnik KazNU, 2013, https://articlekz.com/article/11739; “Mecheti Kazahstana Predlozhili Snabdit’ Terminalami Dlja Pozhertvovanij,” Lenta.ru, June 17, 2013, https://lenta.ru/news/2013/06/17/mosques/.
 “Kasym–Zhomart Tokaev Sovershil Umru V Mekke,” Big Asia (website), July 26, 2022,
 The President’s official residence in Astana.
 In 2022, an auzashar was held for the first time in the Akorda. “Novovvedenija Tokaeva: V Akorde Vpervye Ustroili Auyzashar,” Orda.kz, April 22, 2022, https://orda.kz/v-akorde-ustroili-auyz-ashar/; V Astane Proveli Auyzashar Ot Imeni Prezidenta Kazahstana,” Tengrinews.kz, April 7, 2023, https://tengrinews.kz/kazakhstan_news/v-astane-proveli-auyizashar-ot-imeni-prezidenta-kazahstana-495835/.
 Azamat Syzdykbayev, “Novaja Mechet’ V Nur-Sultane Vhodit V Desjatku Krupnejshih Mechetej Mira,” Kazinform.kz, August 12, 2022, https://www.inform.kz/ru/novaya-mechet-v-nur-sultane-vhodit-v-desyatku-krupneyshih-mechetey-mira_a3965968; “Nazarbaev Sovershil Pjatnichnyj Namaz V Glavnoj Mecheti Stolicy,” Liter.kz, September 16, 2022, https://liter.kz/nazarbaev-sovershil-piatnichnyi-namaz-v-glavnoi-mecheti-stolitsy-1663319887/.
 ProTenge is a social media community that investigates irregularities concerning Kazakhstani taxpayer money and finances. Protenge.kz, 2022, https://www.instagram.com/protenge.kz/?hl=en; ProTenge, Telegram, retrieved from https://t.me/protenge/1753.
 At least on the official-symbolic level, until the January 2022 protests.
 Polina Viktorova, “How the Number of Believers Changed in Kazakhstan,” Central Asian Bureau for Analytical Reporting, November 30, 2022, https://cabar.asia/en/how-the-number-of-believers-changed-in-kazakhstan.
 Hanafi (maddhab) is one of the four primary Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence.
 Formerly the South Kazakhstan region. It was renamed the Turkestan region in 2018; its regional center was moved from Shymkent to Turkestan (city).
 Galina Yemelianova, “Islam, National Identity and Politics in Contemporary Kazakhstan,” Asian Ethnicity 15, no. 3 (2014): 286–301.
 Bilal Malik, “Islam in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan: Experiencing Public Revival of Islam through Institutionalisation,” Asian Journal of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies 13, no. 3 (2019), 368. According to the 1989 census, ethnic Kazakhs constituted 39.6% of the country’s population and ethnic Russians 37.8%, https://online.zakon.kz/Document/?doc_id=30177580&pos=3;-98#pos=3;-98. Before the ongoing ethnonationalization, the Akorda often emphasized that Kazakhstan had more than 125 ethnic groups living on its territory to highlight the country’s international character under the umbrella of civic nationalist identity-building. A holiday called Kazakhstan People’s Unity Day was created in 1996 and is celebrated yearly on May 1, thereby canceling the Soviet Labor Day.
 Marlene Laruelle, “Which Future for National-Patriots? The Landscape of Kazakh Nationalism,” in Kazakhstan in the Making: Legitimacy, Symbols, and Social Changes, ed. Marlene Laruelle (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2016), 155.
 Nursultan Nazarbayev, “Poslanie Prezidenta Respubliki Kazahstan N.A. Nazarbaeva Narodu Kazahstana,” Akorda.kz, 2006,https://www.akorda.kz/ru/addresses/addresses_of_president/poslanie-prezidenta-respubliki-kazahstan-na-nazarbaeva-narodu-kazahstana-mart-2006-g.
 Nursultan Nazarbayev, “Poslanie Prezidenta Respubliki Kazahstan N.A. Nazarbaeva Narodu Kazahstana,” Akorda.kz, 2012,https://www.akorda.kz/ru/addresses/addresses_of_president/poslanie-prezidenta-respubliki-kazahstan-nnazarbaeva-narodu-kazahstana-14-dekabrya-2012-g.
 The fact that Tokayev posted these tweets in English also signals that they were directed at foreign/Western audiences. Kazakhstan ranks 99th out of 111 countries on the EF English Proficiency Index (very low proficiency). Perhaps he attempted to justify state-sanctioned killings by piggybacking on terrorism paranoia prevalent both in the Western world and Kazakhstan’s biggest economic partners.
 Diana Kudaibergenova and Marlene Laruelle, “Making Sense of the January 2022 Protests in Kazakhstan: Failing Legitimacy, Culture of Protests, and Elite Readjustments,” Post-Soviet Affairs 38, no. 6 (June 2022): 454–455.
 Kudaibergenova and Laruelle, “Making Sense of the January 2022 Protests in Kazakhstan,” 452.
 Kudaibergenova and Laruelle, “Making Sense of the January 2022 Protests in Kazakhstan,” 452.
 Terms used loosely and interchangeably in Kazakhstan, usually referring to the ultraconservative “radical” Islamists perceived as potential terrorists. They are understood as fundamentalist/scripturalist Islamic movements associated with the Islam of the Middle East and its attributes.
 Dina Sharipova and Serik Beissembayev, “Causes of Violent Extremism in Central Asia: The Case of Kazakhstan,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism (2021), available online first at: https://doi.org/10.1080/
1057610X.2021.1872163, accessed May 21, 2023.
 The final two attacks would be in 2016.
 According to officials, however, the first terrorist attack was in October 2011 in Atyrau. The first three were not recognized as such.
 The 2011–12 attacks had roughly 40 casualties (including liquidated terrorists).
 Marat Shibutov and Vyacheslav Abramov, “Doklad: Terrorizm v Kazahstane–2011–2012 Gody,” Vlast.kz, 2012, 7. https://vlast.kz/files/art/1028/%D0%94%D0%BE%D0%BA%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%B4%20%D0%BF%D0%BE%20%D1%82%D0%B5%D1%80%D1%80%D0%BE%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%B7%D0%BC%D1%83_%D0%A8%D0%B8%D0%B1%D1%83%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%B2_%D0%90%D0%B1%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BC%D0%BE%D0%B2.pdf.
 Shibutov and Abramov, “Doklad,” 6–8.
 The NSC is Kazakhstan’s central security and intelligence agency, which is usually referred to by the Russian initialism KNB (Komitet Nacional’noj Bezopasnosti) due to its Soviet predecessor organization’s similar-sounding name, the KGB.
 “Okolo 200 Mlrd Tenge Gosudarstvo Vydelit Na Protivodejstvie Terrorizmu v RK,” Diapazon.kz, May 24, 2013, https://diapazon.kz/news/35503-okolo-200-mlrd-tenge-gosudarstvo-vydelit-na-protivodeystvie-terrorizmu-v-rk.
 Shakir Umarov, “Kazahstan Vydelil 1 Milliard Dollarov na Bor’bu s Religioznym Jekstremizmom,” Otyrar.kz, June 17, 2019, https://otyrar.kz/2019/06/kazahstan-vydelil-1-milliard-dollarov-na-borbu-s-religioznym-ekstremizmom/.
 The last 2012 terrorist act was in September.
 In 1999, Russia reported several terrorist bombings in three cities, with 307 casualties. Uzbekistan also reported an attack with 16 casualties in Tashkent.
 Yemelianova, “Islam, National Identity and Politics.”
 Aqyn–a traditional Kazakh poet.
 Asyl Arna (from Kazakh: honorable/noble channel) was renamed to Talim (Kazakh word, Arabic origin: example/lesson) TV in 2020.
 “Tazabek: Ja Ubedilsja, Chto Salafizm–Jeto Sekta, Za Kotoroj Mogut Byt’ Politicheskie Sily,” Zona.kz, November 5, 2020, https://zonakz.net/2020/11/05/tazabek-ya-ubedilsya-chto-salafizm-eto-sekta-za-kotoroj-mogut-byt-politicheskie-sily/.
 Born in Samarqand, modern Uzbekistan, a Sunni Hanafi scholar (853–944) criticized by contemporary Salafists.
 “Telekanal ‘Asyl Arna’ Prekrashhaet Svoju Dejatel’nost’,” Azan.kz, November 10, 2020, https://azan.kz/ahbar/read/telekanal-asyil-arna-prekraschaet-svoyu-deyatelnost-12696.
 Department of Information and Public Relations of the SAMK, “Mediaprostranstvo Muftijata Popolnilos’ Novym Telekanalom ‘Munara TV’,” Muftiyat.kz, July 28, 2021, https://www.muftyat.kz/ru/news/qmdb/2021-07-28/37109-mediaprostranstvo-muftiiata-popolnilos-novym-telekanalom-munara-tv/.
 Dmitry Matveev, “Mechet’ ‘Nurdaulet’ Pytajutsja Zakryt’ Cherez Sud,” Jevrika Newspaper, December 12, 2012, http://www.rikatv.kz/evrika/gorod/mechet-nurdaulet-pytayutsya-zakryt-cherez-sud.html; Makpal Mukankyzy, “Dıni Azşylyqtarğa Qysym Jasau Äreketı Synaldy,” Radio Azattyq, January 29, 2013, https://www.azattyq.org/a/kazakhstan_pressure_on_religious_organisations_punishments/24887039.html.
 “‘Salafija’ Stala Opasnym Religioznym Techeniem v Kazahstane—DUMK RK,” I-News.kz, July 14, 2011, https://web.archive.org/web/20150705113145/http://i-news.kz/news/2011/07/14/5928835-salafiya_stala_opasnym_religioznym_teche.html.
 “Chto Grozit Kazahstancam Za Noshenie Destruktivnoj Odezhdy,” Sputnik.kz, September 27, 2018, https://ru.sputnik.kz/20180927/destruktivnaya-odezhda-shtrafy-kazahstan-7385646.html.
 A mufti is a Muslim legal expert. Head mufti is the highest post of SAMK.
 He became head mufti in 2020.
 “Interv’ju: Nauryzbaj Kazhy Taganuly: “Samyj Vazhnyj Dzhihad–Bor’ba s Soboj,” KTK.kz, February 20, 2018, https://vk.com/@carmo-intervu-nauryzbai-kazhy-taganuly-samyi-vazhnyi-dzhihad-bor. What Otpenov implies is nafs (ego)–an important concept in Sufi Islam.
 Torgyn Nurseitova, “Religioznaja Stabil’nost”–Prioritetnoe Napravlenie Dejatel’Nosti Dumk,” Muftiyat.kz, July 29, 2022, https://www.muftyat.kz/ru/articles/interview/2022-07-29/40129-religioznaia-stabilnost-prioritetnoe-napravlenie-deiatelnosti-dumk/.
 Qasym-Jomart Toqayev, “Müftiat Türlı Ult Ökilderinen Qūralğan Qazaqstan Mūsylmandaryn Bırıktıretın Ortalyq Boluy Kerek,” Twitter, February 21, 2020, https://twitter.com/tokayevkz/status/1230750021395472384?lang=mr.
 Stan Radar, “Muftij Kazahstana: ‘Nado Vozrodit’ I Ochistit’ Nashe Tradicionnoe Verovanie …’,” August 16, 2013, https://stanradar.com/news/full/4145-muftij-kazahstana-nado-vozrodit-i-ochistit-nashe-traditsionnoe-verovanie.html.
 “Nazarbaev: Uvlechenie Radikal’nym Islamom–Put’ k Srednevekov’ju,” Lada.kz, December 16, 2012, https://www.lada.kz/another_news/6870-nazarbaev-uvlechenie-radikalnym-islamom-put-k-srednevekovyu.html.
 It was customary for married Kazakh women to cover their hair with kimeshek (a type of headdress), but not their faces. Here Nazarbayev was referring to the Arabic face covering known as the niqab/burka. In the same vein, Kazakh Muslim traditionalists argue that the hair-covering hijab is alien to Kazakh culture because Kazakh girls and unmarried women did not use to fully cover their hair.
 The tablecloth is a reference to the space where food is eaten communally.
 He uses the Kazakh word aruaq (spirit of ancestors) prior to this.
 “Nazarbaev: V Poklonenii Kazahov-Musul’man Duham Svoih Predkov Ne Vizhu Nichego Strashnogo,” EurAsia Daily, June 28, 2016, https://eadaily.com/ru/news/2016/06/28/nazarbaev-v-poklonenii-kazahov-musulman-duham-svoih-predkov-ne-vizhu-nichego-strashnogo.
 “Prezident Kazahstana Predlagaet Zapretit’ Chernye Odejanija Dlja Devushek I Borody Dlja Muzhchin,” Novoe TV, April 20, 2017, https://novoetv.kz/prezident-kazaxstana-predlagaet-zapretit-chernye-odeyaniya-dlya-devushek-i-borody-dlya-muzhchin/.
 “Tokaev: v Kazahstane Est’ Vse Dlja Razvitija Prosveshhennogo Islama,” Sputnik.kz, March 2, 2018, https://ru.sputnik.kz/20180302/musulmane-religiya-islam-prosveshchenie-kazakhstan-russia-4777538.html.
 “Tokaev Vyskazalsja Ob Islame I ‘Pravil’nyh Orientirah Dlja Molodezhi,’” Bestnews.kz, November 8, 2022, https://bestnews.kz/vlast/13326-tokaev-vyskazalsya-ob-islame-i-pravilnykh-orientirakh-dlya-molodezhi.
 “Tokaev Rasskazal O Vere v Boga,” Sputnik.tj, July 23, 2019, https://tj.sputniknews.ru/20190723/glava-kazakhstan-rasskazal-vera-bog-1029468653.html.
 Qasym-Jomart Toqayev, “My Sincere Congratulations to the Entire Muslim Ummah,” Twitter, May 6, 2019, https://twitter.com/TokayevKZ/status/1125358308016173056.
 Qasym-Jomart Toqayev, “Terrorist Groups Like Boko Haram Compromise Islam and Should Be Stopped by All Means,” Twitter, May 13, 2014, https://twitter.com/TokayevKZ/status/466233281105895425.
 Qasym-Jomart Toqayev, “Somalian Terrorists Heinously Killed 148 Unprotected, Defenseless Kenyan Students,” Twitter, April 5, 2015, https://twitter.com/TokayevKZ/status/584731921357283330.
 Ainur Kaipova, “Nazarbaev O Terakte V Aktobe: Jeto Byla Vylazka Posledovatelej Salafizma,” Informburo.kz, June 10, 2016, https://informburo.kz/novosti/nazarbaev-o-terakte-v-aktobe-eto-byla-vylazka-posledovateley-salafizma.html; Saniya Toyken, “Prigovorennyj K 20 Godam Tjur’my ‘Soldat Halifata.’ Kto On?” Radio Azattyq, August 28, 2017, https://rus.azattyq.org/a/kazakhstan_terrorist_znaliev_atyrau/28701245.html.