Kazakhstan’s Multi-Religious Tolerant Society


In the process of developing the democratic nature of our country, along with other global reforms contributing to modern New Kazakhstan, there are also encouraging changes in the relationship between the state and religious associations, as well as between the state and representatives of various faiths. As the Chairman of the Union of Evangelical Christians of Kazakhstan, I can testify firsthand to the reality of religious freedom that is only expanding in Central Asia’s most dominant country.

In accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On Freedom of Religion and Religious Associations”, adopted in 1992, just a few months after declaring independence, believers were allowed to freely practice their religion. This has influenced our daily life in the world’s 9th largest country ever since. The legal framework and the legislative framework of governing relations, in the sphere of religious freedom and freedom of worship, have become extremely important factors that have changed the situation of religious associations in Kazakhstan in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet Union.

Although more than 70% of Kazakhstan’s population is Muslim, according to its Constitution, Kazakhstan is a secular state – and that isn’t just on paper. The separation of religious associations from the state is a practical reality. At every turn, Kazakhstan has confirmed its commitment to building a democratic, secular and social state in the eyes of the government, in which the principles of freedom of conscience and religion, the equal right of citizens of different faiths, and the principle of state non-interference in internal affairs are legally enshrined. Religious associations and other fundamental norms, adopted by the international community, are deeply embedded in Kazakhstan’s DNA.

As of 2022, ethnic Kazakhs are 70% of the population and ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan are 18%. Other groups include Tatars (1%), Ukrainians (1.3%), Uzbeks (3.3%), Germans (1%), Uyghurs (1.5%), Azerbaijanis, Dungans, Turks, Koreans, Poles, and Lithuanians. Some minorities such as Ukrainians, Koreans, Volga Germans (1%), Chechens, Meskhetian Turks, etc., had been originally deported to Kazakhstan in the 1930s and 1940s by Josef Stalin.

According to various polls, the majority of Kazakhstan’s citizens, primarily ethnic Kazakhs, identify as Sunni Muslims. Less than 1% of them are Shi’a Muslims. There are a total of 2,900 mosques, affiliated with the “Spiritual Association of Muslims of Kazakhstan”, headed by a supreme mufti. Almost 25% of Kazakhstan’s population is Russian Orthodox, traditionally including ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians. Other Christian groups include Catholics and Protestants. Among them are the Evangelical Christians, the Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Lutherans, the Pentecostals, the Methodists, and more.

Evangelical Christianity is a worldwide interdenominational movement within Protestant Christianity that affirms the centrality of being born again, in which an individual experiences personal conversion, the authority of the Bible as God’s revelation to humanity. The word evangelical comes from the Greek (euangelion) word for “good news”. Altogether, there are a total of 175 registered Russian Orthodox churches in Kazakhstan, 53 Catholic churches, and 343 Protestant churches and prayer houses. Christmas is recognized as a national holiday in Kazakhstan. Other religious registered groups include Judaism, the Baháʼí, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

To preserve an atmosphere of unity, peace, and freedom in the country, we encourage fruitful interaction of religious associations, with representatives of state departments and bodies. This includes representatives of various religious denominations, public organizations, and diverse ethnic groups across our society. Together we diligently pursue the development and improvement of interfaith relations. For example, an interfaith club of religious leaders is already being held regularly in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty.

With a Christian population of 26%, the state’s attitude towards Protestant churches has grown to a fundamentally new level under President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. The result is clear: in many regions across Kazakhstan, there is a positive wave of media and growing engagement in charity events, joint delivery of food baskets, and religious festivals.

On June 5th, this year, our people voted for a significant democratic change in Kazakhstan, approving 33 amendments to our constitution. This was the initial implementation of historic reforms, aimed at decentralizing the political system and the economy, presented by President Tokayev.  Those sweeping reforms did not skip over the multiple religions and ethnic groups that make up our society. An analysis of the laws which regulate relations in the religious sphere warrants a discussion on the noticeable positive changes in the position and status of religious associations, further ensuring the rights of believers and freedom of worship in Kazakhstan.

There are still open questions that need to be discussed and resolved. We hope to create a platform for dialogue, especially on comments on the law on the religious activities of religious associations. To build a more robust civil society, the country’s policy is aimed at fulfilling the constitutional principle of the separation of religion from the state, as well as the principles of freedom of conscience and religion, and equal rights for all citizens before the law.

The warm and trusting relationships built between the leaders of religious communities and state bodies have already had a supportive impact on the country’s mood and general spiritual atmosphere. Today, Kazakhstan is well on its way to setting an international standard for freedom of religion, unity, peace, and harmony of all religions and faiths. For this reason, there could be no better timing or location for the convention of the 7th Congress of Leaders of the World and Traditional Religions, next month in our capital city, Nur Sultan.

Yury Shumaev is the Chairman of the Union of Christians of the Evangelical Faith of Kazakhstan (SHVEK), and the head of the “Agape Evangelical Christian Church” in the city of Almaty.