The Kazakh Muftiate, also known as the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Kazakhstan (SDMK), has published an appeal to Kazakh nationals who traveled to Syria to fight.
The plea, published on the muftiate's website on December 3, slams those Kazakh nationals who "went [to Syria] on the grounds of phantom ideas and who now are inciting discord," according to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, Radio Azattyq.
According to Kazakh intelligence, there are around 300 Kazakh nationals fighting in Syria with the Islamic State (IS) militant group. Of these, around around are women, the chairman of the Kazakh National Security Committee (KNB), Nurtai Abykaev, said in November.
According to the muftiate, Kazakh citizens who are fighting in Syria are acting against Islam and in a manner that is alien to humanity.
Why has the muftiate spoken out now against IS and Kazakh militants fighting for it? And who is this address really aimed at: Kazakh militants in Syria, or Kazakhs in Kazakhstan who might be considering joining IS?
IS 'Kazakh Child Militant' Video 'Sickens Muslim Community'
The muftiate's appeal comes in the wake of Kazakh government outrage against the recent publication and distribution by IS militants of a video showing Kazakh militants in Syria, including a group of children who were filmed undergoing military and ideological instruction in an IS camp.
The muftiate referred to this video in its statement, and said that those Kazakhs who "pervert the thinking of their children sicken the Muslim community."
"Those who care about the future of their children should not take this path of teaching children to use weapons and call for war. This is contrary to Islam and Shari'a law," the muftiate said in its appeal.
The "Kazakh child militant" video, which IS titled "Race Toward Good," was released in on November 22 by IS's media wing, Al Hayat. The 15-minute video has caused great concern in Kazakhstan, with the government saying the video was illegal and that it was taking steps to prohibit its distribution in Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan Likely Worried About IS Recruitment
Although most of the criticism of the video in Kazakhstan has been directed against its use of children, the footage has another element that is likely to have caused considerable worry in the central Asian republic. The government's public assessment that there are "around 300" militants in IS, of which half are women, is likely based on a video of Kazakh militants that was published in November 2013, which showed a group of about 150 Kazakh men. One militant in that video says that the Kazakhs came to Syria with their wives and children.
This assessment therefore seems to imply that the flow of militants to Syria has slowed or stopped since the November 2013 video. The IS's "Race to Good" video would appear to contradict that, showing apparently fresh recruits at a training camp.
It is likely therefore that the Kazakh government is concerned that IS propaganda is having or could have an impact on persuading Kazakh nationals to fight in Syria. This would explain the move by the muftiate to set out its position to Kazakh nationals, and to emphasize that IS ideology and actions are "against Islam."
-- Joanna Paraszczuk