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Nostra Aetate scholar travels from Kazakhstan to learn more about Christianity, Christian-Muslim relations

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Aigerim Dyussenova talks to us about her work, studies and home

Nostra Aetate scholar travels from Kazakhstan to learn more about Christianity, Christian-Muslim relations

Aigerim Dyussenova, from Kazakhstan, came to Rome in February 2022, sponsored by Nostra Aetate Foundation, which is linked to the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue. Aigerim has a Master's degree in Religion and Theology from the L.N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University and works at the Committee on Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Information and Public Development of the Republic of Kazakhstan, where one of the important tasks is to ensure interfaith harmony.

 

Would you tell us about your work at the Committee on Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Information and Public Development of the Republic of Kazakhstan?

With pleasure. I have been working at the committee for more than two years. Our committee is a department of the Ministry of Information and Public Development of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which implements state policy in the field of religious activity. The main tasks of our committee are to strengthen secular principles of state development, develop harmonious state-confessional and interfaith relations, and prevent the spread of radical ideology in society. The committee has eight departments, each of which has its own tasks and responsibilities. For example, I work in the Department of Religious Studies Expertise, which identifies compliance and contradictions of objects of religious content, such as information materials with religious content, religious literature, etc., with the norms of the Constitution and the laws of the Republic of Kazakhstan, as well as violations of the rights and freedoms of citizens by destructive religious groups. Taking into account that social networks are very popular, especially among young people, we also monitor various internet resources in order to identify illegal and destructive content. The monitoring of religious literature is a sensitive topic, as it affects a wide range of aspects — from the rights and freedoms of believers to issues of national security.

What led you to choose this area of work and what studies did you do?

Since my school days, I was interested in history and, thanks to successfully passing exams, I won a grant to do a bachelor’s degree in religious studies, for which I am very grateful. I liked the training and decided to continue and enrolled in a master’s degree. During my master’s studies, I was interested in the role of women and their religious studies education in the fight against religious extremism in my country, as well as their participation in promoting peace and security issues in general. Therefore, I have written several articles on this topic.

Also, during my master’s degree, I was offered a job at the Committee on Religious Affairs. I agreed because it is a great idea to apply knowledge gained and to be part of the implementation of state policy. I must say, right away, it was not easy to do a master’s degree and work at the same time. But if you really love what you are doing, it is not difficult for you. 

Nostra Aetate Foundation is sponsoring your stay in Rome. Could you talk about your experience, the courses you are following and the opportunities for dialogue? How will this experience help you in your work?

First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to the Nostra Aetate Foundation for giving me an excellent opportunity to stay in this beautiful city. I study at two universities: the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) and the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI). At the Angelicum, I have three classes: History of the Ancient Church, Introduction to Christian Worship and Introduction to the Great World Religions. At PISAI, we study the history of Christian-Muslim relations. As I noted above, the main task of our committee is the development of harmonious state-confessional and interfaith relations. Christianity is the second-largest confession in my country in terms of the number of followers and religious affiliation. Therefore, it is very important to strengthen and expand my knowledge in this field, to know the main features of the Christian religion, its history, creed, etc. These disciplines help me in this. In addition, I regularly visit the office of the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue to read important ecclesial documents related to interreligious dialogue, such as the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate on the approach of the Catholic Church toward non-Christian religions and the Document on Human Fraternity signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. So, I hope the knowledge I have gained will help me promote dialogue between representatives of different religions in my country and promote them at a higher level, because interreligious dialogue is a bridge between East and West, which must be preserved, strengthened and continued against the background of the spread of conflicts with religious overtones, manifestations of neo-Nazism and xenophobia in the name of creating a safe world.

Aigerim meets Pope Francis during General Audience June 8

Staying at The Lay Centre already gives you an opportunity to live in an international, interfaith community. Is your stay living up to your expectations?

I would like to express my gratitude to The Lay Centre for the warm hospitality, attention and friendship. This is my first experience of living in such a community. Firstly, living at The Lay Centre gave me the opportunity to see some dimension of Catholic Christianity in practice. I was lucky enough to attend the Holy Mass that takes place here on Wednesdays, adoration and religious holidays. It touches my soul and it’s valuable. In addition, it also inspires me to pray more often and learn more about my religion. Secondly, it gave me the opportunity to get acquainted with the culture of different countries. I learn a lot of interesting things by communicating with the people who live here. Thirdly, life at The Lay Centre provides an unprecedented example that members of two or more religions can live together in peace, harmony and understanding and, moreover, like a family, because here I found support and care as in my family.

This is your first trip to Rome. What have been the highlights so far?

It wasn’t easy for me in the beginning. For the first time in my life, I was so far away from my family. I missed them very much. My habitual rhythm of life has also changed. But thanks to the support of my friends at The Lay Centre, I feel much better now. Rome also helped me in this. It is a very beautiful and historic city. Each place, building and detail has its own history, which I previously saw only in textbooks at school. I like the climate here and the many green spaces. During my stay, I visited some tourist sites and very beautiful churches, saw the works of famous sculptors and artists. I am sure that I will go home filled with a lot of memories and inspiration.

Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country, the largest and northernmost Muslim-majority country in terms of land area, and the ninth-largest country in the world in terms of total area, with a population of 19 million. But these are mere facts. Would you like to tell us something about your home country?

The Republic of Kazakhstan is located in the heart of Eurasia. The word of Turkic origin “Kazakh” means “free man,” and Kazakhstan is a country that has been inhabited historically by freedom-loving nomads.

For thousands of years, the inhabitants have bred and grazed numerous herds on the pastures and fertile lands of the region, in the foothills and river valleys. The Great Silk Road passed through the Kazakh lands, sable furs were transported from Siberia through the boundless Kazakh steppes. Kazakhstan was the most important link in the chain of cultural, trade and economic relations between Asia and Europe.

Kazakhstan has become a homeland for people of different nationalities and faiths united by a common historical destiny. This diversity of traditions, spiritual heritage and languages is especially valued in the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Citizens of Kazakhstan are proud of their multinational state. For centuries, a good tradition of friendship and good relations between peoples has been passed down and maintained in Kazakhstan from generation to generation.

The Republic of Kazakhstan is a secular country. Currently, representatives of about 130 nationalities and 18 confessions live in peace and harmony in Kazakhstan. Followers of all faiths have ample opportunities in Kazakhstan to meet their spiritual needs. The state creates equal and favourable conditions for the confessions to carry out their functions.

Despite the fact that the Republic of Kazakhstan occupies the ninth place in the world in terms of territory, for many it remains an unknown and mysterious country. Even the most avid traveler will discover a lot of interesting and beautiful things in Kazakhstan: mountain peaks covered with snow, vast plateaus, deep rivers, arid deserts, endless fields covered with flowers and protected forests.

 

Photos courtesy Aigerim Dyussenova

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