(Kazakhstan’s Supreme Mufti Absattar Derbisali (L) with President Nursultan Nazarbayev (R) at the Central Mosque in Almaty November 16, 2010/Shamil Zhumatov)
Kazakhstan’s top Muslim cleric hit out on Friday at a tough new law on religious activity and warned that the restrictions it imposed on pious Muslims could spur extremism. Article 7 of the bill, which was passed by the Senate on Thursday and has already been approved by the lower house, bans prayer rooms in all state institutions.
Both the U.S.-based human rights body Freedom House and the 56-member Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe have criticised the legislation, which has yet to be signed into law by President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
“To pray to Allah five times a day is a sacred duty of each Muslim. And it is quite possible that if reading prayers is banned at state institutions, certain groups will appear to voice their discontent with the state,” the Supreme Mufti of Kazakhstan, Absattar Derbisali, said in a statement.
“Who can guarantee that, choosing between work for the state and worshipping Allah, such people will not join various political forces or extremist groups? Aren’t we creating a threat to national security and the calm of the nation with our own hands? This is not the way to fight extremism and terror.”
Oil-rich Kazakhstan, a majority of whose 16.5 million people are Muslims, has Central Asia’s largest economy and is the world’s biggest uranium producer, a major grain exporter and the ninth largest country by area. It has recently begun to suffer the kind of outbursts of militant Islam experienced by other former Soviet states in the region.
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The views expressed in this article are not those of Reuters News.