Reviews

This captivating and iconoclastic paper, nourished by a rich anthropological literature on identity issues, shows how Kazakhstan, responding to the shortage of individuals with proper religious knowledge, has turned to the Middle East as a provider of Islamic education since independence in 1991.  Very astutely, the author has met Kazakhstani students at al-Azhar in Cairo, and tried to assess the way Central Asian or, slightly more globally, former Soviet identity responds locally to the overwhelming Muslim ‘otherness’.  Taking notice of the deception of numerous newcomers by general living conditions, and by the level and perspectives of the teaching offered to them in Egypt, A.B. stresses the general attitude amongst students:  Most come to Cairo in order to learn language skills and religious know-how that will confer a certain ‘cultural capital’ upon them back home; although they regard Egyptians as their coreligionists, they are eager to emphasise their difference from ‘Arabs’.  The high level of communal socialisation is illustrated by the case of Nurcu students, who are usually taken good care of in Cairo.  To date, only a limited number of Kazakhstanis have obtained a bachelor degree from al-Azhar; all have returned home, where some have, despite their young age, become influential religious figures.  As to the renegotiation of identity, the author has been noticing that many aspects of the Soviet period are now viewed positively:  For example, it is notable that when Kazakhstani women in Cairo have any health-related problem, they prefer to go to the Russian hospital or turn to Russian-educated doctors for advice.  “Their trans-local position helps students to come to terms with the hybridity which is a result of their colonial past and a reality of their postcolonial situation.”  These sorts of things could not have been more properly said.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-5.3.D-466