Exclusive Interview of Chairman of the Board of Governors, NNC for the Development of Interfaith & Inter-Civilizational Dialogue


Q: What is the strategic significance of socio-ethnic harmony in achieving the goals of new Kazakhstan?

Ans: In Kazakhstan we have more than one hundred ethnic groups, and eighteen confessions. That’s why from the very beginning of our independence, the leadership of Kazakhstan realized that it is very important to maintain stability of the country because without this it is impossible to predict any development, both economic and political. Therefore, we pay very high attention to keeping this stability in our society. For this purpose, we have initiated various things, for example we have the Assembly of people of Kazakhstan. Previously, we used the term “peoples”, but later on we changed it to the “people”, because we are still the citizens of one country. Although we belong to different ethnic groups but all of us are Kazakh citizens. And this Assembly is playing a very important role, representing all ethnic groups of Kazakhstan. The Chairman of this Assembly is the President of Republic of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. According to the Constitution of Kazakhstan, minorities can gain seats in Parliament directly through the Assembly, rather than through elections. The quota for the minorities is very important because it is some kind of support to them to be in the Parliament of Kazakhstan and have their representation. There are ethnic cultural centers working in Kazakhstan. We have for example theaters in their languages, we have newspapers in their languages, so that’s one part of it.

The other part is, what I do myself – the interfaith and intercivilization dialogue. Our unique platform, which began operating in 2003, celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year. Similar events are also held in other countries. The difference is that specialists, experts, and representatives of religions gather at these platforms, but our Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions consists of those who make decisions, those who influence government decisionmaking, and this is the uniqueness of our dialogue platform. Over the years of the Congress, the circle of participants and supporters of this event has expanded quantitatively and qualitatively. More and more religious representatives are willing to join our forum. Thus, in 2022, about one hundred delegations from 50 countries took part in the work of the VII Congress, while only 18 delegations arrived at the I Congress. So, it means that it has huge international support. This is a very unique place where you will meet representatives of many different religions. Arriving in Astana, they gather at one round table and, putting aside existing differences, conduct a conversation in the spirit of religious diplomacy. So, if we talk about tolerance, I would say that tolerance is only the first step, tolerance alone is not enough. And the next step, I think, is dialogue between religions. Dialogue and real open discussions, including during meetings of the Congress and the Congress Secretariat. Meetings of the Congress are held once every three years. At the end of each session of the Congress, we adopt a declaration – a final document prepared and approved by all the leaders. Demonstrating to the whole world that there really aren’t that many differences between religions. All religions are the same in terms of peace, harmony, tolerance and so on. Sometimes people use the term «Islamic terrorists» and so, there are no Islamic terrorists in the world. Some people, some organizations use the name of Islam. Islam has nothing to do with terrorism, radicalism and same applies to other religions. All of them are based on the same ideas and same approaches. So finally, they come and accept the declaration which means that the views of the leaders of the world and traditional religions are various on different events happening in the world, but they come to an agreement, which is very important and it is actually a dialogue not just the tolerance. I think that stability is very important, you could make plans, economic development plans and so on, but it would not happen without the stability. Therefore, actually the dialogue not just the tolerance is required.

Q: Kazakhstan is famous for its biggest ethnic human source in the world. What are your suggestions to showcase this splendid human treasure to the world?

Ans: In fact, Pakistan is a large country with a large population, which has always played a big role. This is a tourist destination, and it has a bright future. Pakistan and Kazakhstan have a common path of development, and we have a lot in common in language, in traditions, and we live close to each other. For example, the flight from Almaty to Lahore took me two hours and fifty minutes, whereas the flight from Almaty to Western Kazakhstan takes more than three hours. Thus, Lahore is even closer to us than some other cities in Kazakhstan. So, we live in the same world, in the same region, and we have a lot in common, and I must say that from the very first Congress we have felt the support of Pakistan. Since 2003, Pakistani participants have been part of our Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. Therefore, I believe that the leadership of both countries understands that we are doing one thing in common. I came to participate in the conference organized by the Islamic University «Sirah, Civic Sense and Tolerance». So these are the same things we’re talking about. Our Сongress is doing the same thing, and Dr. Muhammad Zia Ul-Haq has always been a part of our Congress, he is an active member of the Working Group and the Secretariat, and sometimes shares Kazakhstan’s experience in Pakistan, because we have to share the experience of both sides. That is why I am sure that one day Pakistan will return to its former achievements, and peace will reign in this country, and that all the people living in this country are not Pashtun, Baloch, whoever they are, they are just Pakistanis. This is very important, what we are trying to have in our country too, that we are all citizens of Kazakhstan living in peace, and the same thing should happen in Pakistan. If there is a Kashmiri song or Pashtun song, it should be Pakistani song.

Q: Excellency, do you think that exchange of scholars, media and people to people contacts can further enhance the prospects of peaceful dialogue within Central Asia and of course with Pakistan?

Ans: We know that universities, research institutes and the like have always been the driving force in this field. Anywhere in the world, an institute or university is a so-called center of intelligence, scientific ideas, and so on, which is why it should be something of a driving force. We are taking steps in this direction. To date, the Center has signed more than 35 memorandums of cooperation and mutual understanding with leading universities, institutes and organizations in the field of promoting intercivilization dialogue and religious studies. Also, our ambassador to Pakistan is one of the most active and establishes relations between universities and cultural institutions, which are very important. Because universities and mass media play a much greater role in society, giving people an understanding of the future ways of life development and so on.

Q: Don’t you think that there should be a peace award and diplomacy between Kazakhstan and Pakistan for youth, clergy and NGOs?

Ans: Yes, for example, on October 11 this year, members of the 21st meeting of the Congress Secretariat adopted the document “2023-2033 Development Concept of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. Religious leaders stand for a fair and peaceful world”, the preparation of which was proposed by the President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev at the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions last year. The systematic work of the Congress entities during the intervals between congresses are based on the implementation of the Road Map of the Congress Secretariat for the promotion and practical implementation of the provisions of the declaration. It will include a Forum of Young religious leaders, whose involvement will be the key to preserving the continuity of intercivilization and interfaith dialogue and to protect them from the influence of extremist ideology. The development of spiritual diplomacy, strengthening the partnership of the Congress with international institutions and platforms are also among the priorities of the Concept. It is proposed to introduce the institute of Goodwill Ambassadors of the Congress from among prominent and highly reputable religious, political and public figures in order to develop the potential of spiritual diplomacy. The Concept aims to further contribute to the creation of a world in which spiritual and moral values are not merely preserved, but become fundamental.

Q: Excellency, on October 11, this year, Congress of the Leaders of the Word and Traditional Leaders held in Astana, is it possible for your Centre to conduct similar events in other countries to achieve the cherish objective of harmony and tolerance?

Ans: Well, it was not exactly the Congress. it was the 21st meeting Secretariat of the Congress of the Leaders of the World and Traditional Religions. The Congress Secretariat functions as the working body of the Congress and holds its meetings once a year. As a part of the implementation of the Development Concept of the Congress, various events will be held in Kazakhstan and abroad (online/offline international meetings, round tables, conferences, sermons, lectures, exhibitions, seminars, etc.) aimed at promoting and implementing the mission, goals and declarations of the Congress. I would like to note that the Congress will be held in Astana and the Congress Secretariat will also be located in Astana. Meetings of the Council of Religious Leaders may, if necessary, be held in different countries. So, your question was good one and we will definitely think about it.