Claude Salhani: Islam Without a Veil: Kazakhstan's Path of Moderation. Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2011; pp. xv + 203.
Article first published online: 28 MAR 2014
© 2014 The Authors. Journal of Religious History © 2014 Religious History Association
Journal of Religious History
Volume 38, Issue 1, page 172, March 2014
How to Cite
Weller, C. (2014), Claude Salhani: Islam Without a Veil: Kazakhstan's Path of Moderation. Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2011; pp. xv + 203. Journal of Religious History, 38: 172. doi: 10.1111/1467-9809.12158
- Issue published online: 28 MAR 2014
- Article first published online: 28 MAR 2014
Claude Salhani's book Islam Without a Veil: Kazakhstan's Path of Moderation “is his first book on Central Asia” (p. 203). Apart from brief, passing references to the matter and a broad, general comparison of Kazakhstan with Turkey, it has little to do with the question of veils among Kazakh Muslim women as a genuine symbol of a more moderate form of Islam there. Rather, Salhani interprets Central Asian, particularly Kazakh, Islam from his vantage as a Middle East journalist and political analyst preoccupied with the issue of terrorism in relation to international relations, economics, oil, and education, while not knowing the essential languages (Kazakh and Russian) or spending sufficient time in residence to grasp the intricacies of his assigned subject. Along with his lack of experience in the region, his lack of reference to essential scholarship on Kazakh and Central Asian Islam go a long way in explaining many weaknesses of the book. Closer editorial review could, likewise, have cut down on its overly repetitious nature, providing clearer distinction as well as cohesion between the chapters.
One of his main points of emphasis, that “Islam in Kazakhstan is … separated from politics, and at peace with itself and with all other faiths and cultures” (p. 10), though containing important kernels of truth, too closely reflects “Astana's vision of religion” (p. 109), namely the views of the government officials on whom he has too closely relied. Certain of his other descriptions are still-lingering Soviet clichés readily picked up on by the West, such as that the Kazakhs are “laid-back” about their religion (pp. 32–33) and “rarely go to the mosque” (p. 58), though he does make clear that “[t]hey value their Muslim heritage and tradition” (p. 58).
As to strengths, certainly “[o]utside Kazakhstan many people have a false impression about the country, its politics, and its human rights record” (pp. 31–32). Salhani makes a welcome contribution toward helping correct the typical overemphasis and prevailing false impressions which exist. Most importantly, in spite of the very real and sometimes tense struggles among various Kazakh Muslim groups or between those groups and the other religious communities there, violence and terrorism have, as Salhani highlights, been kept at a bare minimum, that is, peace has prevailed. Likewise, in spite of very real compromises and even outright violations of religious freedom over the past twenty-plus years, a significant even unmatched degree of religious freedom has been granted to the multiple religious groups present, for which Kazakh Islam and the government under which it flourishes deserve full credit and greater international recognition. As Salhani puts it, “the manner in which Kazakhstan approaches Islam (and other religions) is worth a more detailed analysis, as it could lend itself as an encouraging example to the rest of the Muslim world to follow in this time of grave geopolitical crisis” (p. 58).
A prime reason for Salhani publishing this work when he did was his belief that “Kazakhstan … [would] be in an excellent position from which to exert its influence when it assume[d] the chair of the OIC [Organization of Islamic Conference] in June 2011” (p. 94). Given, though, the long-standing historic competitions for leadership within the “House of Islam” between Arabs, Persians, and Turks, not to mention Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tatars, and more, as well as the competition between predominantly Muslim nation-states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran, and others, the chances that “Kazakhstan can be the model for the rest of the Muslim world on the path to moderation” (p. 29) are deeply challenging at best, but certainly worth highlighting.