Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Attacks on Wahhabism Increase Its Attractiveness to Young Believers, Tatarstan Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 11 – “Harsh” official campaigns against Wahhabism and other radical trends in Islam “are not leading to a positive result” among young Muslims but because “the psychology of a believer is somewhat different,” he or she is likely to consider that “where there is oppression, there is truth [and] for truth, one must suffer, according to a Tatarstan sociologist.

            That is something Russian officials need to consider, Yekaterina Khodzhayeva of Kazan State University says, and she says she is thus very pleased by “the initiatives of official religious organizations to propagandize [their version of Islam] by missionary methods, something used early only by members of sects” (

            In an interview with Guzel Maksyutova published in the current issue of “E-Umma,” Khodzhayeva describes the polls and interviews she has conducted among young people in urban and rural areas of Tatarstan over the last decade, including most recently in 2009 and 2010 when they surveyed more than a thousand young residents of that Middle Volga republic.

            A decade ago, she reports, 39 percent of urban and rural youth there identified themselves as Muslims, a figure that rose to 47 percent in the last sampling. Most believers in both cases were Tatars – between 91 and 96 percent; the remainder, she said were “people from mixed marriages and migrants.”

            In 2010, Khodzhayeva said, young people were asked “why did you choose this religion?” Sixty-three percent said they did so because “this is the religion of my people, 43 said that it was “a family tradition, and 19 percent because it was a matter of “personal conviction.” (Respondents were allowed to give more than one answer.)

            This finding suggests, she continued, that “there are very few Muslims who consciously chose to follow the religion.”  Those surveyed were also asked whether they were believers.  “However strange it may seem, about ten percent of those queries [who said they were Muslims] indicated that they did not believe in [God].”

            Another question the sociologists asked was for respondents to declare “who” they felt themselves to be in the first instance. “As at the start of the 2000s so too today, among young people only 15 to 16 per thousand declared themselves to be Muslims. This suggests that the level of actualization of religious identity is weak.”

            By contrast, Khodzhayeva noted, “professional and family identitfications (daughter, mother, doctor and so on) and also ethnic and civic identities (I am a Russian, I am a resident of Tatarstan, I am a Russian) predominate.”

            On the basis of her research, the sociologist told “E-Umma,” she has developed a four-part typology of young Muslims in Tatarstan: first, “nominal Muslims who are called ‘ethno-Muslims’ in Islamic society, a group that forms about 29 percent of young people in the Republic of Tatarstan.

            Second, those who observe “only those rites that have social significance. Third, those who she says she would call those “drawn to Islam,” who form about 30 percent and who practice a larger number of rites. And fourth, those who strictly follow the rules of Islam, a group that number some 25 percent of the total.

            Those who practice Islam, Khodzhayeva continued, also can be divided according to how they came to religion, how much access they have had to higher education, and which trend in Islam they identify with.  “For example,” she says, some young Muslims consider “Wahhabism” only a shibboleth applied by officials to any group of Muslims the authorities don’t like.

            Others consider it a real group within Islam, with some “showing sympathy to it” and others “harshly opposed.” But sympathy for that group or for any other trend in Islam will grow to the extent that officials use harsh measures of any kind against it because of “the psychology of believers.”

            Moreover, Khodzhayeva said, “if we live in a democratic society, then the Muslim communist needs to be able to carry on a dialogue with any trends. Harsh pressure in any form against those who think differently will makes heroes out of those who hold such positions,” exactly the opposite outcome that officials and moderates within the umma want.

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