I chanced upon the word «Mahalla,» looked up its meaning, and immediately sensed that it could become a Story. There was scarce information online about what it was, and to me, a mahalla was a sun-drenched courtyard where children played.

The more I learned about the mahalla, the more I understood that it was much deeper and more poignant than I had imagined. Then I traveled to Taraz at the invitation of the community leader and met with the Council of Elders and Mahalla’s people living there. It was like I had entered an entirely new realm.


Taraz is located in Southern Kazakhstan, on the border with Uzbekistan. The city’s old name was Auliye-Ata, which means «Wise Elder». Uzbek mahalla traditions have been preserved in this city, perhaps better than anywhere outside of Uzbekistan. Currently, there are 44 mahallas in Taraz.

Mahalla may be translated from Arabic as «district», or «neighborhood». In the past, the Uzbek mahalla could be a closed neighborhood. Nowadays, the mahalla primarily serves as a system of local self-government, a community of people living in the same area who share similar values — family, care for loved ones and the community, modesty, and hospitality.

Nemethbay Ata Mosque — The Heart of the City

Nemethbay Ata Mosque was built in the 19th century. Nemethbay Ata Mosque is located on Tashkentskaya Street. When the city of Taraz was created and settled, its first streets were oriented towards the corresponding cities from which the first settlers came — Tashkent, Fergana, and were named accordingly — Tashkentskaya, Ferganskaya.


The mosque is definitely the decision making center for the mahalla. It is there where all important decisions are made. However, besides the mosque, the center could also be the «chaikhana», national cuisine canteen which is located within the boundaries of the mahalla. Nowadays, it is often not just a chaikhana, but cafe or restaurant with national cuisine, but it still save its function as the center of the community.

Mahalla Voice

Closed / Open

Mahalla may seem like a quite closed community, but that’s not entirely true. All the aksakals tell that a mahalla is a supra-national community. And indeed, in many mahallas, not only Uzbeks but also Kazakhs, Russians, Jews, Koreans, and other nationalities live together. The main requirement is that a mahalla member embraces the values of the mahalla, and nationality is absolutely not important.

Self-rule and Bank

Each mahalla has its own system of self-rule. Domulla is the mahalla religious leader. Domulla is an ethic mentor, he resolves complex ethical, religious issues in community, as well as questions related to weddings and funerals.

Aksakal council or elders council is a council of the wisest members of the mahalla. Aksakals actively participate in the life of the mahalla, represent the mahalla at official events, and welcome and see off guests.

The mahalla has an internal bank that collects funds to assist low-income families, provide financial support to the relatives of the deceased, and purchase equipment such as tables and benches for various celebrations.

Homeland Connection

In the mahalla, the homeland connection is maintained primarily on a spiritual and cultural level. Some mahalla residents also have other connections to Uzbekistan. For example, traditional dishes and special fabrics for holidays are ordered from Uzbekistan.

One family imports plants that do not grow in the Kazakhstan climate. These plants are sold to anyone interested, not just in the mahalla.