Nestled in a valley surrounded on three sides by the massive Tien Shan mountains, Almaty sits huddled in the south east corner of the largest of the central Asian countries, Kazakhstan. Oil and gas companies, their support services, foreign embassies, restaurants, neon lights, discotheques and nightclubs crowd the city.
Almaty, Kazakhstan Centre for Business
Eleven years ago, one would have had to search hard to find Almaty’s only mosque. Seventy years of communism had ensured that the bulk of Kazakhstan’s Muslim background population identified themselves as Soviet citizens first. Today the old mud brick building has been replaced by a huge concrete structure, capped with blue domes, at least 5 times the size of the former mosque. New mosques are appearing on street corners in nearly every suburb. The majority of the city’s Muslims are Kazakhs whose ancestors were nomadic herdsmen converting from shamanism to Islam in the 16th century. The Kazakhs live among other Muslim ethnic groups who are traditionally stricter adherents of their Muslim faith from surrounding nations.
The city of Almaty began in the 1800′s as the Russian fort town of Verney. It was renamed Alma Ata around the turn of the century and was the capitol of the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan. Since the late 1990′s Astana in the north has been given the role of capital, but Almaty remains the centre of business, culture and social life.
Almaty, Kazakhstan Culture
The city born Muslim population is often educated in Russian language, atheistic and is more comfortable in European culture. This population has had to make room in the last 11 years for an influx of a wave of rural Kazakh and other Muslim ethnic groups coming to the city seeking jobs and a better life. These new immigrants are more likely to be poor, less educated, speak Kazakh rather than Russian, hold more firmly to Folk Islamic beliefs and find little in common with their city neighbours.
The newly emerging local church as well as protestant evangelical missionary activity has increased 100 fold since the doors to the city opened for evangelism in early 90′s. The activity of some non-traditional religious groups is seen as a threat to the relative peace and stability of this secular city. New religious laws have led to the closing and outlawing of many mosques and churches as well as deportation of missionaries.
Pray for the Muslims in Kazakhstan:
* For the preservation of the relative religious freedom and in Almaty. The relative anonymity of city life provides opportunities for evangelism, discipleship and training of Muslim background believers (The close knit relationships of smaller towns often hinder church and missionary activities).
* That Almaty will grow to be a centre for the training and sending city of Muslim background missionaries into the surrounding Central Asian Muslim nations, other Muslim nations and China.
* That believers will serve the needs of the new wave of unemployed, displaced and poor people flooding the city looking for hope and a new beginning (Jeremiah 29:7).