The Kazakhs from ancient times professed the Islam of the Sunni direction of the Hanafites. As the number of resettled peasants increased, the tsarist government pursued a policy of infringing the rights of the Muslim population. Since the beginning of the XIX century, the autocracy began to openly pursue a policy of Christianization of the Kazakh population. On the part of the nomads, strong opposition was met.
One of the representatives of the Omsk diocese I. Golubushkin at the beginning of the twentieth century stressed: "according to religion, the Kirghiz are Muslims, but they are alien to fanaticism." Along with Islam, the Kazakhs had pre-Muslim beliefs. They believed in the spirits of their ancestors. They appealed to the Old Turkic God Tengri with the words "Tanir zharylgasyn!" ("Let Tanir help!") During the crop failure, the absence of rains on the graves of their ancestors they held a religious rite Tassatyk. They revered the saints, for example, Khoja Ahmed Yasawi. Among the nomadic and semi-nomadic population, a special place was occupied by baksy (shamans).
And the funeral rites of the steppe people remained conservative. The Kazakhs buried the dead according to Muslim customs. Each tribe buried their relatives in their cemeteries. Relatives prayed for the deceased after 3, 7, 40 (sometimes 100) days and a year later. In honor of their revered ancestors they gave “As” (commemoration). They usually took place one year after the death of respected people. In traditional society, “As” was of great social and cultural importance. The most important socio-political, economic and social issues were solved there. During the conduct of the “As”, tens and hundreds of yurts were placed, memorial prayers were read, and representatives of various tribes were specially invited to this celebration: aksakals, akyns, biys, batyrs, orators and strongmen. They organized sports games and competitions: horse racing, wrestling competition, archery with a solid prize fund. Conducted and competitions of akyns - aytys. Lush, plentiful “As” could arrange only rich people.
At the end of the 19th century, the names of people who made pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca, Qunanbai-kazhy, Dyuissenbai-kazhy, Sheget-kazhy, Bayazid-kazhy and others were widely known in the Steppe.
In the last quarter of the XVIII century, the Russian Empress Catherine II pursued a policy of supporting Islam. This was due to the following circumstances. First, it was the desire of the tsarist government to consolidate the Kazakhs by strong ties with Russia. In this case, only Russian Tatars were used as mullahs. Secondly, such a step should lead to the restriction of ties between Kazakhs and Central Asian Muslim centers. Thirdly, these measures should have mitigated the belligerent mores of the nomads. On the whole border with the Kazakh steppe were built mosques at the state expense. As a rule, they were built under fortifications both at the initiative of the authorities and at the request of Kazakh khans, sultans and foremen. At the mosques, there were small madrasah. Printing houses were set up for publishing books in Arabic.
More and more often from different places higher authorities received signals about the drunkenness of churchmen and their violation of order during worship. Most of the churchmen did not understand what functions they were supposed to perform, "they sing and read badly, they do not know the church rules, almost all lives are drunk. They prove inadequate to their purpose." Not only that some church ministers trampled on the foundations of Orthodoxy with their drunken life, they also attracted the same people or used unseemly methods to increase the number of baptized. It was known the case of the transition of the Kazakh woman from Islam to Orthodoxy, who supposedly for a short time (from April 2 to 5, 1896) was prepared for the rite of baptism. But the inquiry of the prosecutor's office showed that she was baptized "by deception, being swilled for several days with vodka."
In its colonial policy, the tsarist administration devoted much attention to the Christianization of the nomadic and semi-nomadic Kazakh population. By the beginning of the XIX century, the socio-political situation in the Kazakh zhuz began to change. And for the tsarist government, the most favorable conditions for the implementation of a new policy - the Christianization of the Kazakhs were formed. The position of the autocracy in the international arena has appreciably increased. So, in the Patriotic War of 1812 against the French, Russia emerged victorious.
The beginning of the revitalization of the tsarist authorities for the Christianization of the Kazakhs dates back to 1808, when hunger began in the regions bordering on Russia. The tsarist government, taking advantage of the social and economic situation of the border nomads, has stepped up its activities to transfer Kazakhs to the fold of the Orthodox faith.
But in the Steppe, there were practically no nomads willing to accept Christianity. There were explanations for this. Firstly, the steppe population of Kazakhstan basically consisted of Kazakhs who professed Islam. Secondly, the local population had a strong opposition to the activities of Orthodox missionaries. Thirdly, by this time, the position of Islam through Tatar mullahs also strengthened somewhat. Therefore, until the middle of the XIX century, the results of Christianization of nomads were insignificant. For example, in the vast Omsk region there were only 25 baptized Kazakhs, in Tomsk province - 4 and in Tobolsk - 66.
Christianization of steppe Kazakhs receives some impetus since 1881, when the Kyrgyz mission was opened. It was created on the basis of the Altai spiritual mission. The latter was engaged in the Christianization of the Kalmyks of the Biysk District of Tomsk Province.
The new mission was engaged in the Christianization of the Kazakhs of the vast Semipalatinsk region. Creation of a mission in the territory of this region was explained by the fact that throughout the XIX century it was he who distinguished a significant number of zhataks. From the side of nomadic Kazakh communities there was an active opposition to the Kyrgyz mission. The Kazakhs organized searches for the departed Kazakhs in the peasant-Cossack villages. This is what the Orthodox missionaries wrote about this in their report: "The relatives and neighbors of the Mohammedan medium use all means to prevent their members from accepting holy baptism, resorting to cunning, insolent violence and revenge."
To better educate the Orthodox faith, the newly baptized were sent to missionary camps, where they studied the Russian language, reading and writing and the foundations of a new faith.
The pace of the missionary activity was insignificant. In addition, there was a reverse outflow to Islam. Therefore, it is no accident that the materials of the All-Russian Population Census of 1897 showed in the territory of Kazakhstan the presence of only 660 neophytes.
In parallel with the planting of Christianity, the tsarist government pursued a policy of weakening Islam. The tsarist government considered Islam an obstacle to the spread of the Orthodox faith. Kazakhs were forbidden to study in the countries of the East, for example, in Turkey. The activity of the mullahs was placed under the control of tsarism. In 1867-1868 the religious affairs of the indigenous population were subordinated to the Minister of Internal Affairs. In each volost it was allowed to have only one mullah. Among the nomads mullah could only be a Kazakh, a subject of the Russian Empire. The Mullahs were confirmed and dismissed by the military governor. The construction of mosques was carried out with the permission of the governors-general. On the right to teach local residents the diplomas and arrangements for mosques in schools, the mullahs had to obtain the permission of the county governor. The maintenance of mosques and schools at them was carried out at the expense of local societies. Wakfs were categorically forbidden.
The activities of Christian missionaries and the restriction of the positions of Islam caused protests by the indigenous population. In 1889 nomads of Kokchetav district of Akmola region appealed to the tsar with a request to appoint their mufti from Kazakhs, but they were categorically refused. The prohibitions on the construction of mosques led to the fact that the locals built them without permission. In 1903, underground religious organizations were established in the cities of Kokchetav, Petropavlovsk, Akmola, Pavlodar, and Semipalatinsk. There were mullahs, teachers and Kazakh students. Their activities were directed against the religious policy of the tsarist government. The movement was led by the mullahs Nauan Khazret (Nauryzbai Talasov), Mukhamedzhan Bekishev, Shaimerden Kosshygulov and Smagul Balzhanov. In order to preserve their national identity, they urged the local society to actively oppose the missionary activity of tsarism. So, they sent letters of support to influential people in the Steppe - Saduakas Shormanov from Pavlodar County, Abai Qunanbayev from Semipalatinsk district of Semipalatinsk region.
A vivid example of such confrontation was the statement of the Kyrgyz woman of Karamolinsk volost Malika Smagulova, who was a victim to the activities of an impure missionary. She stated her complaint in a petition addressed to the Head of the Committee of Ministers, Count Witte. Here is what she writes about this in the petition of December 18, 1905.
"My husband Kirgiz Smail Kakin, on the agreement of the missionary Aleksey, accepted Orthodoxy. With the permission of the same missionary, Smail threw me and married another also baptized Kirghiz. My young children Abubakir, Eleusiz, Kairzhan and Amirzhan remained with me in the steppe. It was not enough for the missionary to take my husband and my father's children away from me, he decided to forcibly take away my children from me and baptized them to increase his strongholds that depict his activities, for which he resorted to the assistance of the county police. My husband was baptized in April 1902 and at that time my sons were Abubakir 12 years old, Eleusiz 9 years old, Kairzhan 6 years old and Amirzhan 3 years old. In August of the same year my children were taken from me through the district chief, handed over to the missionary and the latter baptized them involuntarily in tears. My children and the husband himself were never Christians, they were not prepared for this, and the children were baptized with power over which there is little need, and the husband tempted to marry another and pecuniary handouts. The last for the Kirghiz was of great importance and, although for a while they gave him the opportunity to eat enough meat. According to the law of the baptism of young children, the Mohammedans are said, not otherwise than with the consent of their parents. When converting to Christianity, not to allow the slightest coercive means in the image of the Apostolic preaching. How could a missionary have the right to take my sons from me through the County Chief and baptize them without my consent? And now he does not even have the slightest idea of a Christian religion, who does not know prayers and is tempted to give him another wife, to be considered compulsory and disagreeable even against the law ordering him to act in the image of the Apostolic preaching. The most gracious Manifesto of 1905 granted the people freedom of conscience. Now there is no need for the missionaries, in their illegal methods, to increase the Orthodox by the Kirghiz, whose ignorance places them below the babies; as stated by the Kirghiz of this region in the petition filed to Your Excellency. My children beg me to take them back to me, they do not want to be Russian, to profess their faith, but remain Kyrgyz, Mohammedans and want to live with their mother. These are their words, their desire. One of them, Abubakir, filed a request to the Prosecutor of the district court in which he even asked to bring to responsibility the County Chief who arrested him in the city at the request of the missionary and sent him to arrest the same. The prosecutor gave this request to the governor. It has not been considered so far, despite the fact that it was necessary to apply to the governor from the telegram promulgated in the newspapers with this request. Now, I ask your Excellency, on the strength of the Manifesto of October 17, 1905, to release my children Abubakir 16 years old who submitted your request, Eleusiz 13 years, Kairzhan 12 years, Amirzhan 6 years and return them to me as baptized without my consent, seized from me by force, not wishing to be Christians and live with the father who committed the crime - marriage with the existence of an old (marriage). I think that your Excellency understands the suffering of the mother, who forcibly deprived children of the criminal father and the tears of children, torn from her by the will of the missionary to increase their accountability."
It is interesting, but Malika Smagulova defended the honor and dignity of Smail Kakin, despite the fact that he threw her and took the children. In the petition it is clear that the missionary did not neglect any means in the struggle for the soul of the Kirghiz, did not spare money or persuasion, even proposed a new wife.
It should be noted that a significant amount of money was spent on the maintenance of the mission center: according to average estimates based on the analysis of the statistical data given in the "Review of the activities of the Office of the Orthodox Confession during the reign of Emperor Alexander III", an average of 267 rubles was spent on the baptism of a Muslim, while in the whole of Russia this figure was 77 rubles.
In 1907, in Omsk, under the steppe governor-general, a meeting was convened, where actual problems of the spiritual life of the Kazakh society were also discussed. It also contained demands for the need to stop the activities of Orthodox missionaries. The local population demanded a free transition of Orthodox Kazakhs back to Islam. It was proposed to open a special Steppe Muftiat. The participants of the meeting raised the problem of abolishing censorship of spiritual books published in Kazakh, Tatar and Arabic. The program documents of the national party "Alash" (1917) also contained demands for the termination of missionary activity in the territory of the compact arrangement of the indigenous population.
Translated by Raushan MAKHMETZHANOVA