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Language Of Church And State

Muslims pray during Eid al-Adha -- but who decides what language they pray in?

Muslims pray during Eid al-Adha -- but who decides what language they pray in?

What language is the most suitable to conduct sermons in mosques and churches? This has become a topic of debate among some followers of different faiths in Kazakhstan in recent weeks.

Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, according to a report by religious freedom watchdog Forum 18, "want to open mosques where they could worship with fellow-believers who speak the same language and have the same cultural background."

In Kazakhstan, imams are appointed by the country's state-backed Muslim Board. The fact that the majority of imams are ethnic Kazakhs, the expert suggests, could "be part of a wider state attempt to make the Kazakh ethnicity dominant."

The Russian Orthodox Church in Kazakhstan, meanwhile, is breaking with tradition by announcing its plans to deliver sermons in Kazakh in order to reach their many worshipers who don't speak Russian.

The Orthodox Churches' intention to conduct sermons in Kazakh, as reported by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, has annoyed some Muslim leaders in the country, who describe the move as religious propaganda.

Many others, however, see it as mere promotion of Kazakh language by religious institutions.

The government in Astana has a grand plan to promote Kazakh language and get almost every citizen of the country speaking the language by the 2020.

A recent census in the country indicates that only 64 percent of people believe they speak Kazakh fluently, while 85 percent said that they are able to read and write in Russian.

Kazakhstan's constitution, which denotes Kazakh as the state language, stipulates that all top officials, including the president, must be fluent in Kazakh.

President Nursultan Nazarbaev passed a Kazakh language exam while running for presidency in the 2005 elections.

-- By Farangis Najibullah