Islam, Gender and Education in Kazakhstan (Central Asia) Essay Sample

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Islam, Gender and Education in Kazakhstan Nazgul Mingisheva (Karaganda Bolashak University, Kazakhstan) [email protected] Paper presented at the ASN World Convention Columbia University, April 19-21 2012 Please do not cite without the author’s permission © Nazgul Mingisheva Abstract My paper is focused on the preliminary results and hypothesis of my research on Islam, gender and education in present-days Kazakhstan. The research purpose is to discover some relationships between dynamically developed Islam and present gender relations, in particular, among young people. The Kazakh officials started to build the concept of traditional Islam in the last years. I would research how the governmental discourse about understanding of Islam shapes young people’s discourse. In addition, I consider some attitudes of young male and female about family, education, work, public, and religious values. The basic research method is open interview with senior male and female students who identify themselves as Muslims and represent gender inequality in their discourses. My fieldwork consists of observations for last two years and interviews completed from October to December of 2011 in Karaganda city in Central Kazakhstan.


After the extremist attacks in Western and Southern Kazakhstan in October and November of 2011 and the governmental declaration to design the concept of the traditional (moderate) Islam in Kazakhstan it is the time to rethink and re-interpret social processes through religious, powerful, and gender relations to better understand how Islam and authorities could shape gender discourses in present-days Kazakhstan. I would suppose that young people represent how gender attitudes are changed and constructed under religious and power discourses. The object of my research is young men and women who identify themselves as Muslims and study at universities in Kazakhstan. For recent years a number of such students are growing. It is evident when these students, primary male, ask a special excuse from instructors to go to Mosque for Friday prayers. The main research questions of my paper are the following: Why young people turn to Islam, and how do they study Islam? How are social and family values of 1 young generation changed under Islam? What is a higher education for young men and women? Do Islamic institutions influence on emerging of gender inequality among youth?

I conducted my fieldwork in 2010-2011 observing Muslim students at the university and taking open-end interviews of senior male and female students in fall of 2011. The names of the students are anonymous. My research carried out in Karaganda city of Central Kazakhstan. Theoretical approaches Although the process of institutionalization of Islam in Kazakhstan takes the period from 1990 to the present, the concept of traditional Islam building emerged only in recent years. For Kazakhstan’s government the traditional Islam means moderate that could be explained by dominance of Hanafi Sunni among Muslim population in the country. After relatively peaceful in compare with the rest Central Asian countries of twenty years of Islamic institutions development, Kazakhstan impacted with different displaying of extremist activities in Western and Southern Kazakhstan from July to November in 2011.

In my mind, the Kazakh authorities have to fasten and strengthen their efforts to build the idea of traditional Islam in the country during last year after these events which led to several victims and injured people. What is the traditional Islam? Is it possible to build the conception of traditional Islam in Kazakhstan? Is the idea of traditional Islam as some attempt to oppose moderate Islam to Islamic diversity and, particularly, to Salafi communities in Kazakhstan? How does this moderate Islam shape gender relationships in present-days Kazakhstan? What is about the category of tradition, I would like to consider some different aspects of it below. “Tradition may also be understood along the lines of what Foucault calls a “discursive formation”, a field of statements and practices whose structure of possibility is neither the individual, nor a collective body of oversees, but a form of relation between the past and present predicated upon a system of rules that demarcate both the limits and the possibility of what is sayable, doable, and recognizable as a comprehensive event in all its manifest forms” (Mahmood, 2005:114-115).

According to Mahmood, Asad developed the Foucault’s definition of tradition to the following: “… Asad’s formulation of tradition draws attention both to micropractices of interpersonal pedagogy, through which the truth of a particular discursive practice is established, and to the macrolevel of historically sedimented discourses, which determine the possibility of what is debatable, enunciable, and doable in the present” (Mahmood, 2005:115). In the other words, Asad represents a tradition as a changeable social institute which has two levels, micro and macro that are helpful for a tradition to adapt to the present. Another point about tradition: “All traditions are created … through shared practice, and they can be profoundly and consciously modified and manipulated under the guise of a return to a more legitimate earlier practice” and: “… the process of creating tradition is both conscious and explicit, and unconscious and implicit” (Eickelman & Piscatori, 1996:28-29). It can be told that “tradition is a subtle and elastic concept” (Eickelman & Piscatori, 1996:37).

2 Thereby a tradition leads to the process of objectification of religion with the following basic questions of believers: “What is my religion?”, “Why is it important to my life?”, and “How do my beliefs guide my conduct?” (Eickelman & Piscatori, 1996:38). For objectification of Muslim consciousness it is important the canonical sources (the Quran, the hadith, and juristic commentaries) (Asad, 1986) and catechisms (Eickelman & Piscatori, 1996). Mass education, mass higher education, and mass communication are also important for all modern world religions (Eickelman & Piscatori, 1996). It can be told that education and new interpretations help to change and modernize a tradition under the context of power: “They [modern mass communication, higher education, and publishing] do … by transforming religious beliefs into a conscious system, broadening the scope of religious authority, and redrawing the boundaries of political community” (Eickelman & Piscatori, 1996:41-42).

Thus, the religious tradition and its objectification would create power discourse. According to Foucault, “… power is to be understood as a strategic relation of force that permeates life and is productive of new forms of desires, objects, relations, and discourses. Secondly, the subject … does not precede power relations, in the form of an individuated consciousness, but is produced through these relations, which form the necessary conditions of its possibility” (Mahmood, 2005:17). In my mind, Foucault gave the most important interpretation about power and the subject when the subject and the object are not only shaped by power discourses but also both reproduce power in their attitudes that result the subordination in these relations (Mahmood, 2005). I would suppose that gender and gender relations could confirm, explain, produce and reproduce power and social changes. Gender is an interactional category, it is socially constructed, and unavoidable in everyday life: “… the ‘doing’ gender is undertaken by women and men whose competence as members of society is hostage to its production. Doing gender involves a complex of socially guided perceptual, interactional, and micropolitical activities that cast particular pursuit as expressions of masculine and feminine ‘natures’” (West & Zimmerman, 1987:126).

Doing gender is unavoidable “… because of the social consequences of sex-category membership: the allocation of power and resources not only in the domestic, economic, and political domains but also in the broad arena of interpersonal relations” (West & Zimmerman, 1987:145). It is necessary to note about Goffman’s interpretation of doing gender and producing dominance and difference: “… in doing gender, men are also doing dominance and women are doing difference, the resultant social order, which supposedly reflect ‘natural differences’, is a powerful reinforce and legitimator of hierarchical arrangements” (West & Zimmerman, 1987:146). In the sum, tradition could be considered as the power discourse and it also could influence on gender relations. Simultaneously, it is important to note that tradition is changeable and flexible concept. Most probably, tradition and the process of objectification of Muslim consciousness could be developed and changed not only under different shared social practices but also with dynamics of gender relations. So traditional Islam is not a stable and permanent system, it is the result of interaction of two levels: macropolitical which is historically legitimized (the past) and micropolitical where gender, for my mind, is important and responsible for the present and future.

3 In my opinion, gender relationships are mapped by power discourse and, in the same time, they could diverse this dominant discourse. My initial fieldwork on Islam, gender and education in Kazakhstan would present these preliminary statements. Research study I started my fieldwork in 2010 with observing of some students who identify themselves as Muslims. For my initial research I chose two students (male and female) who study on senior course at the university. These two students are some models and representations of gender relations. They are also senior students who graduate university and are going to work. It is important for me to compare their religious, family, and social values. The primary method of my research is open-end interviews which I conducted in different times and situations in October-November of 2011. Both student names are anonymous. The research was carrying out in Karaganda city of Central Kazakhstan. In general, I would like to note that the male discourse contains much more Muslim terminologies than the female one. Under Muslim terminologies I imply, for instance, “Islam”, “the Quran”, “the Prophet”, “Mosque”, “the Judgment Day”, “Imam”, “Prayer”, and others.

To compare, during the interviews the young man used 46 Muslim categories, when the young women used only six ones. It could be explained that he goes to Mosque as well for prayers and communication with other believers as for Islamic studying which characterized with memorizing and repetition of Islamic knowledge (Boyle, 2006) what represents in his discourse. Also, I would like to describe previously that the male discourse in this research is more public then the female one which I would define as private. My interview questions have three parts: 1. Basic reasons of a young man and woman to turn and study Islam; 2. Family and social values of young Muslim generation; and 3. Significance of education and higher education for these young persons. Why young people turn to Islam? In this part of the interviews I focused on reasons (why they turn to Islam), duration (how long they interested with Islam), and studying of Islam (what sources they use in their studying) by the young man and women.

Nurlan: First time I went to Friday prayer at school in 2006. From that time I did not miss Friday prayers. From the second course at the university I started to pray five times a day. Nobody made me go to Mosque… I think my self-consciousness led me to the Mosque… I saw people who went to the Mosque and I wanted to go there too. To study Islam I use books, Internet, newspapers, journals, and TV but attending at preaching is the best for me. It could be told that he represents the public discourse. I would interpret this male narrative as understanding of the Mosque as a place of Friday prayers and studying of Islam. It would be possible to consider Islamic institutions as a public space of Muslims’ communication 4 in this situation. It is necessary to note that his faith moved from striving of “clear Islam” (or Salafism) to the idea of traditional Islam during last two years. The young woman gave some different answer: Dinara: I am interested with Islam eighteen months ago. My father invoked my interest to Islam when he turned to Islam himself and talked me a lot about it. I use books and Internet in the studying of Islam.

It is important to note that she does not identify herself as Hanafi Sunni (the Muslim majority in Kazakhstan) like her father who influenced her to turn to Islam. She is studying different Islamic trends, and the short time she was a member of the Muslim community ‘Ahlus Sunnah Jamaah’. This difference could be explained with language policy in Mosques where prayers are in Kazakh. Dinara does not speak Kazakh as well as her father. She does not support her father who goes to Mosque and does not understand prayers in Kazakh. As a result she looks for other opportunities to study Islam. In her opinion, young people in Kazakhstan have the same situation and impact with different Islamic sects which have the flexible language policy. She left the Ahlus Sunnah Jamaah because someone from the community did not allow her to see news about Islam in the Internet and read a book about Islam with Turkish origins. In addition, when Dinara turned to Islam, she started to wear hijab and from those times she is under great pressure, particularly, she is oppressed by university administration and security services.

From my prospective, the men in these two cases (in the Nurlan’s and Dinara’s answers) represent Islam as a public place where they share and support power discourses (governmental and religious) even though one of them does not speak Kazakh to understand prayers in Mosque. Dinara’s father as an agent of power discourse influenced on his daughter but she moved from official to alternative versions of Islam. It could be told that the men do dominance and the woman does difference (Goffman, 1967; West & Zimmerman, 1987) in the practice and study of Islam in present-days Kazakhstan. What are family and social values of young Muslims? This part of the interview gives many similarities in the interpretations of male and female students about family, work, family roles, and social priorities in their lives. Most probably, both young man and woman understand family values according to the Quran, the Sunnah, and hadith. Considering family and roles of a wife and husband, they separate public and private in their interviews and demonstrate the phenomenon of gender inequality.

The questions are the following: What is the meaning of a family, and what is important for creating of the family? When would be better to marry? How many children would you like to have? What responsibilities for a husband and wife? Could the wife work? What are your life priorities? Nurlan: Islam is very important for me, so I think it is necessary to have need knowledge before creating a family. In my opinion, having the family demands some preparation, particularly, spiritually. … I think a spiritually developed man becomes adult early, so he can marry when he 5 is 20-21 years old. I would have five or more children (smile). Muslim family should have many children. A husband must provide his family. A wife has the right to demand providing from her husband. The main responsibilities of the wife are children and household, it is well known for all. Also she must find contentment for her husband. … I suppose the wife has the right to work, but she cannot work at all. Islam does not require working for married women. But I think that my wife will be working. It would be better (smile). My plans now are to graduate the university and find a job. Then I am going to marry, of course.

I do not want to delay with it (smile). *** Dinara: I think a man and woman need to respect and understand each other before their marriage. Also they need to realize their responsibility for future family… and love is very important too. In my opinion, the best age for the marriage is 22-26 years old. I would have three-four children. A husband must provide his wife and children with all that they need. He should respect, understand and help to his wife. Also he must listen to her opinion… he should allow his wife to work, I think. And he should pay more attention for his children and wife. … The wife must respect his husband. A woman is lower on one stage than a man, it is necessary to remember, but she can have her own opinion. Family must be the most important for the woman because it is the foundation for her family. The wife must nurture her children and look for them.

The wife must find contentment for her husband, it confirms her respectfulness. I think I will be working after my marriage till birth of a child. What about my future plans … I am going to receive the diploma, find a job and plan to get marry in the nearest time. Family is very important for me. It could be concluded from these answers that the family values are characterized differently for the young man and woman. Male discourse represents some cognitive (knowledgeable, rational) aspects of family values and female one is more emotional (love, respectfulness, understanding, etc.). The rest thoughts of young persons are similar about early marriage, many children, family roles and responsibilities, and life preferences. It is necessary to note that female discourse already represents gender inequality (a woman is lower on one stage than a man) in her speech. In addition, both male and female demonstrate that private sphere (family) is the basic priority for the married woman. It could be inferred that Islam change family values of young generation and influence on emerging of gender inequality. What is the meaning of higher education for youth?

It is the short part of the interviews and consists of two questions: Is higher education important for you? Is it necessary to have higher education for your future wife? 6 Nurlan: If a man is religious it does not mean that he (or she) denies all profane. For me, education and higher education are very important. The modern times require having higher education. Also I need to satisfy the hope of my parents. And I think that higher education is important for my perspective wife. Dinara did also agree that higher education is necessary as well for women as men. She told that she met some young Muslim women who did not want to study after getting marriage. Sometimes young Muslim men have different attitudes to higher education for their wives. But she is sure that education is necessary for her and her future husband. It could be implied from her words that education assists people in the process of socialization, and well-educated mother is very good for her children. In my mind, educational institutions could balance successfully between governmental and religious power discourses to lower some social density.

From this perspective, it would be possible to consider education as a source of possible secularization and moderation of a religious society. Some comparisons with Islam in Europe To better understand the present processes with increasing of Islam and changing of gender relations in Kazakhstan, I would like to make two comparisons with some similar situations in Bulgaria (Ghodsee, 2010) and in England (Shain, 2011)1. Ghodsee researched Muslim minority in postsocialist Bulgaria, and Shain’s fieldwork was on young Muslims in England. Ghodsee was conducting her fieldwork from 2005 to 2008 and researched Muslim minorities in different places of Bulgaria where Islam increased after Soviet collapse. The specific focus of her research is city Madan with Muslim community of the Pomaks. After falling of communist regime, the population (including Muslims) of this small industrial city impacted with severe economic crisis, unemployment, corruption, and rising of crime.

It can be told that Islam replaced identity of Muslim community in Madan and reshaped gender relations from mining masculinity to religious one for men and from Soviet emancipation to private sphere for women: “Islam could be one of many new discourses operating in the postcommunist context that holds out the possibility for a return to collectivist ideals and the vision of a morally and ethically united community striving for common material and spiritual goals” (Ghodsee, 2010:200). It would be possible to consider Islam in Bulgaria as some transformation of atheist communist ideas to religious ones. Shain researched twenty-four Muslim boys between twelve and eighteen years of working class in the city of Oldwych (West Midlands of England) from May 2002 to October 2003. She considers political and social identity of young Muslim men using the method of 1 These comparisons are possible due to the consultation and recommendations of Professor Beth Goldstein whose class on Comparative Education I took in the spring semester of 2011 at the University of Kentucky. 7 intersectionality of race, class, religion, and gender.

This approach lets to study changes of subjectiveness in local, social and historical contexts. Shain pointed about stigmatization of Muslim communities and young Muslims in England, particularly, after suicide bombers in 2005. Young Muslims have to invest to cultural capital because of lacks in economic opportunities, so their Islamic identity is increased. In this case the male gender identity is also changed: “… masculinities are … constructed in relation to boys’ classed locations (prospect of unemployment), patriarchy (dominance over women) and racism (Islamophobia in policy and media discourses and anti-Muslim racism on the ground)” (Shain, 2011:144). Summing and comparing these two fieldworks with present Kazakhstan, it could be told, that Soviet collapse and extreme economic and social crisis led to spreading of different religious institutions including Islamic ones in particular. It would be possible to consider Islam as ‘way of life’ among Muslim population in Kazakhstan (Omelicheva, 2011), as the new ethic alternative for everyday life. Simultaneously, after extremist attacks in Western and Southern Kazakhstan in October November of 2011, it could be possible to say that Muslims started to be oppressed and stigmatized in political (religious (implied Islamic) parties are prohibited) and social (Muslims cannot serve in the army, restrictions with hijabs and in some educational institutions) spheres in present-days Kazakhstan.

The new law about religious activities and religious associations is discussable and arguable not only by some extremist Islamic groups but also by many Muslim communities which considered as the major Hanafi Sunni in Kazakhstan. Young Muslims are also oppressed, and they attitude to the current situation as to the test which would be overcame. Conclusion In my conclusions I would like to give some answers to above questions. In my mind, most probably, it is possible to construct the concept of traditional (moderate) Islam in Kazakhstan. I would like to assume that the idea of traditional Islam already emerges in social and communication discourses and, for example, in the architecture of new Mosques in the country. But it is necessary to know that tradition is not monolithic and stable phenomenon that can shape a society; it could be changed under interactions of different individual, group, of social relationships along time. In addition, it would be possible to say that objectification of Muslim consciousness (Eickelman & Piscatori, 1996) is in the process in Kazakhstan due to mass communication and education.

Now it is more than obvious that Islamic institutions influence and change identity and gender relations of young people in Kazakhstan. Through my small fieldwork I would like to note that gender inequality is constructed due to Islam where I could present some differentiations between masculine (public) and feminine (private) discourses. For men Islam is represented as a public space where they can communicate with other believers and where they can study Islam. Young women demonstrate private discourse where family, children, and household are primary values for them. 8 In the end I would agree that authorities could provoke radicalization of Muslim groups in Kazakhstan (Omelicheva, 2011) with oppression and restrictions over believers in many social aspects. In my opinion, education and higher education, particularly for Muslim girls and women, are the most important tool to smooth and reduce possible violence in gender relations and also to moderate Islam in Kazakhstan in the present and future. In addition, for perspective researches it would be better to use the intersection method to study social changes under ethnicity (or race), class, gender, and religion.

This method would let to embrace some important aspects of everyday life for analyses and comparisons of different changes in social processes of post-Soviet countries. Acknowledgements I would like to thank a lot to the Professors of the University of Kentucky: Dr. Alan J. DeYoung, Dr. Beth Goldstein, and Dr. Karen Tice who encourage and consult me with studying gender, comparative and global education theories for my research in Kazakhstan. Also I would like to thank Dr. Alexander Knysh from the University of Michigan and Dr. Morgan Liu from the Ohio State University who enriched my research and interview questions with useful additions on Islamic studies. And special thanks to the Faculty Development Fellowship Program of Open Society Institute which supported my scholarship at Education Policy Studies and Evaluation Department in the University of Kentucky and my participation at the ASN Convention of 2012.


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