Staunton, November 3 – Mintimir Shaimiyev, the former president of Tatarstan, praised the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate for creating a new Union of Muslims of Russia to oppose extremism and promote inter-religious understanding but turned down an offer that he assume leadership of this organization, citing his lack of expertise on Islam.
Both Shaimiyev’s praise and his refusal to become the leader of the group were reported by Interfax yesterday (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=48692
Behind this exchange are at least three more fundamental factors at work. First, the new organization is clearly the latest effort by Talgat Tadjuddin, the head of the Ufa-based Central MSD who styles himself “the Supreme Mufti of Holy Rus” but is sometimes referred to be his opponents as the “drunken” mufti because of his alcohol use, to assume leadership of the entire Russian umma.
Because of his ambition, Tadjuddin has not had easy relations with other Muslim leaders or with the heads of Muslim majority republics like Tatarstan. Shaimiyev almost certainly refused not because of a lack of knowledge of Islam but precisely because he did not want to help Tadjuddin in his quest.
Second, there have long been tensions between Tatarstan which Shaimiyev headed and Bashkortostan where Tadjuddin has his base. Tadjuddin generally has had the support of Bashkir leaders – indeed, President Rustem Khamitov praised the mufti this month – but perhaps precisely because of this, Tatar leaders have been more cautious in their assessments (www.info-islam.ru/publ/statji/v_ufe_sostojalsja_ix_sezd_cdum_rossii_foto/5-1-0-17940).
Tensions between the two Middle Volga Turkic Muslim republics have been promoted by Moscow – the division of these two peoples in 1920 was Stalin’s first act of ethnic engineering – and today are pushed by pro-Moscow analysts who support a policy of divide and conquer. The politically astute Shaimiyev would not want to fall into a trap by accepting.
And third – and this is far and away the most important consideration – Tadjuddin both at the recent Ninth Congress of the Central MSD and more generally has gone out of his way to attack the much-ballyhooed spread of Islamist extremism in Tatarstan and to call for draconian measures to stamp it out.
On the one hand, Shaimiyev has repeatedly said that extremism among the Tatars is not nearly as extensive as Moscow and Tadjuddin have claimed. (The former president could hardly do otherwise without opening himself and his numerous allies in Kazan to attack and without putting the future status of his republic at risk.)
Consequently, Shaimiyev turned Tadjuddin down, seeing the latter’s offer as a kind of poison chalice and, by rejecting it, likely guaranteeing that this latest move by the Central MSD head will end as have many of his campaigns in the past, with a great deal of media play and an equally small amount of actual change.