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Kazakhstan: Fifth Congress of World Religions




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photo_57020The Fifth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions will take place on 10-11 June 2015 in Astana, putting forward 'The dialogue of religious leaders and politicians in the name of peace and development'. The growing threats of terrorism, extremism and conflicts on religious grounds attract particular attention to the event, and explain the growing interest of politicians in participating, searching for solutions in co-operation with the clerics of 'modus vivendi', guaranteeing the peaceful co-existence of different faiths. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been consequently battling against the 'clash of civilizations' approach, convinced that a synthesis of different cultures in a global world is not a dream, but a must.
The growing threat of terrorism and radicalization has put a great deal of pressure on politicians requiring an immediate and adequate response to the challenges, making the Congress at most timely and useful platform for international community to debate over the new challenges.
For many participants it is not only an intellectual quest, but a unique opportunity for personal exchanges with opponents, which is definitely an encouraging sign, as at the Congress the clerical disputes are secondary to the major aim of serving humanity, thus uniting against violence and the abuse of the religious doctrines that are instrumentalized for political purposes by radical Islamists groups.
Kazakhstan as a country with Sunni Muslims as the major religious community has so far carried high its profile of a model of a multicultural and multi-faith society, where within a secular framework major world religions peacefully co-exist.
"We all are people on Earth. It is wrong that clashes of civilizations are inevitable. The future of humanity is in co-operation," said President Nazarbayev, addressing the First Congress. This concept remains a guideline, tuning the debate where the differences are patched by genuine desire irrespective of doctrinal disagreements to ensure harmony in a larger picture of reconciliation in humanism and civility.
Once established as a unique arena for the communication of the world's major faiths and a peacemaking tool, the Congress developed into a highly appreciated institution for exchanges between politicians and clerics, confirming the growing significance of  beliefs in a post-Cold War world. The meaningfulness of Congress has been expressed in the profound interest shown by the UN and UNESCO and a growing number of attending delegations from almost hundred countries so far, starting with just 17 back in 2003.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appreciated Kazakhstan's model of multi-ethnic and multi-confessional peace and reconciliation, underlining that the Congress initiated by Nazarbayev is an 'important and effective' forum for dialogue.
The key element of Congress has always been its attention to the education of youth as the antidote to radicalization, the promotion of the system of views and opinions based on tolerance, respect of lives and opinion of the others, helping young people to avoid terrorist activities. The galloping developments of IT technologies has changed the structure and methods of work of the terrorists, shifting to more horizontal organization and smaller groups, making the counter-terrorist operations difficult and resource consuming activity.
This reality calls for offering a comprehensive approach of fighting religious fanaticism at the grass-roots, thus according to the majority of the participants through enhanced educations programs and co-operation between the state and religious communities.
"We are seriously concerned about the situation in the Middle East, the activities of the so-called" Islamic State, which is trying to impose its will, the ideology of the young people not only in our part of the world, but also in Europe. We have to discuss seriously these issues from the perspective of why the ideology of the  'Islamic state' becomes attractive for some young men, and why they are involved in such terrorist activities, rejecting modern values" said Senate Speaker Kasym-Jomart Tokayev ahead of the Congress.
The other burning issue is the definition of the borders between the individual right of the religious freedom of expression of an individual and the development of modern democratic stated based on the civic values – he debate which is more passionate in some European countries than in Kazakhstan where the population is moderately religious, according to recent Gallop research, comparable to Northern Europe states.
The citizens of Kazakhstan don't consider themselves as intensely religious, being self-defined as 'culturally' Muslim or 'culturally' Orthodox with approximately two thirds Sunni Muslim, including President Nazarbayev, one third Russian Orthodox, with the other religions representing around 50 faiths in a 17 million population. The individual manifestations of religious preferences such as as wearing scarfs by women in public places or Christian crosses remain rare in comparison with EU countriesThere are many cross-marriages among people of different faiths.
Both Muslim and Orthodox major festivities are included in the state holiday calender, underlining respect for the largest religious communities in the country. Kazakhstanies regard the upcoming Congress in Astana as a milestone in the construction of a successful multicultural society, promoting world-wide tolerance and peace that is so characteristic of traditional Kazakh life in the vast steppe of Central Asia.

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