Sadaqa (Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan)

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Sadaqa 🇰🇿 🇰🇬
Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan Locator.png
Location: Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan
Definition: Muslim charitable giving, usually a donation of small amount of money or food; also functioning as mechanism of local governance and community mobilization
Keywords: Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan FSU Central Asia Islam Religion Community Mutual help Charity Food Payment Money
Clusters: Informal welfare Informal governance
Author: Aisalkyn Botoeva
Affiliation: Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES), The George Washington University, USA
Website: Author's webpage

By Aisalkyn Botoeva, Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES), The George Washington University, USA

Sadaqa is used in all places with practising Muslim populations as an umbrella term for charity, encompassing sadaqa-al-fitr (obligatory donations made before the Eid – the Muslim religious festival celebrating the end of Ramadan) and sadaqa jariyah (voluntary charity), among other forms. Guidance as to who should give and who should receive charity, or ‘economy of poverty,’ is provided by the Quran and the hadiths or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, sadaqa as an Arabic term is used interchangeably with its equivalents in the local Turkic languages, kairymdylyk (қайырымдылық) in Kazakh and kairymduuluk (кайрымдуулук) in Kyrgyz, which similarly refer to charitable actions.

Sadaqa has taken a plurality of forms over time, reflecting how people adapt religious tenets to their traditional customs and practical needs. Historically, Kazakh and Kyrgyz nomadic communities intertwined sadaqa with communal food-sharing practices and life-cycle events. When for example someone suffering from a long illness seemed close to death, it was common to sacrifice a sheep in a zhan sadaqa ceremony (meaning 'alms for the soul'), that would pacify the person’s soul and beg the deity for a peaceful death (Aljanova et al. 2016). Following someone’s death, it was common for families to make seven thin breads fried in oil, sadaqa nan (alms bread), and to distribute them on the street or to their neighbours. Some believed the smell of sadaqa nan being cooked would lead the diseased person’s soul back home (Aljanova et al. 2016). Even in contemporary urban settings, families are known to make sadaqa nan in times of trouble, for example if a family member suffers an accident or other physical injury. In mosque settings, people may also offer sweets as sadaqa to be distributed among visitors before prayers (Turaeva 2019).

People may also invoke sadaqa if they are robbed or simply lose a valuable item. Although a lost or stolen item may not have been intended as charity, saying ʻbashtan közdön sadaqaʼ (баштан көздөн садага) in Kyrgyz or ʻbas közden sadaqaʼ (бас-көзден садаға) in Kazakh is meant to alleviate the unfortunate person’s anxiety and pain over their loss and to point out that, as long as one’s head (here meaning health more broadly) is safe, everything else can be replaced.

The most widely used meaning of sadaqa refers to a small monetary donation that one may give to a beggar on the street or a sack of flour given to a neighbouring family in dire need. With Islam gaining more salience in public spaces in the post-Soviet period, however, religious authorities have extended discussions of charity to encompass more than just random acts of kindness. In the contemporary period, sadaqa has become a popular informal mechanism of local governance and community mobilization. Religious authorities and community leaders have contributed to this trend, going beyond canonical usage and portraying sadaqa as an individual’s duty to the community. They now promote the idea that disposable wealth should be directed towards mobilizing resources and tackling community needs, ranging from supporting mosques to reconstructing decaying schools and developing infrastructure such as roads and water canals. Some pious entrepreneurs also extend the meaning of sadaqa from monetary donations to good deeds at the workplace and in business.

Religious authorities and community leaders use Quranic idioms and hadiths to prompt community members and well-off sponsors to engage in sadaqa and to address broader issues such as public infrastructure, poverty and other areas where they feel the state and its welfare programmes have fallen short. For example, in one of his sermons Abdishukur Narmatov, a notable religious authority in Kyrgyzstan, discusses sadaqa jariiya as a deed that will bring God’s benevolence even after death. Charitable actions may range from small cash donations to other things such as ʻpaving the roads in one’s village, building a bridge, planting a tree, making drinking water accessible, and generally providing something useful for one’s community.ʼ Narmatov warns that shaitan (Satan) tries to prevent people from enacting sadaqa by unleashing doubt such as, ʻIs there no one else who can help people? Just give your material possessions to your own family.ʼ In such instances, according to Narmatov, a truly yimanduu (spiritually mature or devoted) person should remember the Al Imran surah (the third chapter of the Quran), which states that Allah returns everything that is donated or shared as an act of charity.

Inspired by such lessons, pious practising Muslims connect sadaqa practices to sabap or so’op (сооп) in Kyrgyz and sau’ab (сауаб) in Kazakh, which is God’s reward returned in forms that range from receiving Allah’s mercy and love to subsequent abundance of material possessions and cleansing of one’s soul. The head imam of Ali Muhammad mosque in Kazakhstan, Kanatali Tahirov, adds that a donor also receives healing from disease and that his or her property will be protected and multiplied. Mosque leaders and preachers increasingly connect sadaqa to other religious duties, promoting the idea that the pious should engage in charitable acts alongside prayers, fasting and the Hajj pilgrimage (McBrien 2008). Inspired by such messages, local communities, particularly in rural areas, solve many practical issues such as badly maintained roads or dilapidated school buildings by pooling their resources and efforts, rather than merely relying on the government. In this way, sadaqa narratives and practices are related to other forms of collective action in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan such as ashar or yntymak, where financial resources and labour are pulled together to address a pressing local issue.

Some pious entrepreneurs in both nations are increasingly choosing to identify their businesses as being either explicitly or implicitly 'Islamic' or Shariah-compliant. They merge their capitalist profit-oriented practices with Islamic tenets and argue that both Islamic doctrine and the principles of good modern management dictate certain business ethics. Although interpretations and applications of business ethics vary, some entrepreneurs claim that they treat their workers fairly and respectfully by paying their salaries in a timely fashion and involving them in decision-making. 'It is considered a form of sadaqa if you treat your workers respectfully and keep them content,' claimed one of the respondents in Botoeva’s (2018) study of Muslim entrepreneurs.

However, some religious leaders caution against engaging in sadaqa in certain circumstances. Mufti Maksat Aji, leader of the Muftiate in Kyrgyzstan, for example, emphasizes that people who already have debts and loans should not practice sadaqa. Alluding to the ever-expanding scope of personal loans that individuals take from banks and microfinance institutions, the Mufti has urged people to tackle the issue of credit and debt first. Moreover, other religious authorities state that, before making a donation or giving away something of value, people should ensure that their own families and friends are well-fed and taken care of. Finally, excessive donations or those that are made to attain public visibility are interpreted not only as being in bad taste, but also as not in keeping with the spirit of Islam (Epkenhans 2011 discusses similar criticisms offered by religious authorities in Tajikistan).


Aljanova, N., Borbassova, K. and Rysbekova, Sh. 2016. 'A Semiotic Analysis of the Yurt, Clothing, and Food Eating Habits in Kazakh Traditional Cultures,' International Journal of Critical Cultural Studies 14 (1): 27-36

Botoeva, A. 2018. 'Islam and the Spirits of Capitalism: Competing Articulations of the Islamic Economy,' Politics and Society 46 (2): 235-64

Epkenhans, T. 2011. 'Defining Normative Islam: Some Remarks on Contemporary Islamic Though in Tajikistan — Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda’s Sharia and Society,' Central Asian Survey 30 (1): 81-96

Ro’i, Y. and Wainer, A. 2009. 'Muslim Identity and Islamic Practice in Post-Soviet Central Asia,' Central Asian Survey 28 (3): 303-22

Turaeva, R. 2019. 'Imagined Mosque Communities in Russia: Central Asian Migrants in Moscow,' Asian Ethnicity 20 (2): 131-47

Таиров, К. 2019. 'Что такое садака?',

Abdishukur Narmatov’s speech retrieved from:

Mufti Maksat Aji’s speech retrieved from: