Saturday, December 8, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Tajuddin Says Only the State Can Save Traditional Islam from Radical Threats

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 8 – Talgat Tajuddin, the head of the Ufa-based Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD), says that the influence of radical Islam has so thoroughly penetrated Islamic structures like the MSDs and Islamic universities that only the government can save the umma from the radicals.

            In a speech to a Chelyabinsk conference yesterday on “The Spiritual Aspects of the National Security of Russia,” Tajuddin, who has maintained his position for more than 30 years by presenting himself as Muslim leader most devoted to the Kremlin, thus implicitly invited the government to help purge these bodies (

            Tajuddin’s comments likely presage a government-backed purge in the bureaucracies of some of Russia’s 80-plus MSDs. Indeed, such an effort has already begun in Tatarstan ( But they also highlight the weakness and irrelevance of the MSDs to the Russian umma, institutions with roots in the Soviet and Russian imperial past that have no canonical basis in Islam.

            Accrording to Tajuddin, “for a number of objective and subjective reasons, there has been seen a consistent tendency to the worsening of circumstances” within the umma in recent years. And “in the last year” alone, Muslim structures “have been subjected to real aggression by the radical elements who are seeking to seize the Islamic space of Russia.”

            Over the last five years, he continued, “more than 50 key leaders of traditional Islam were killed, dozens more were seriously wounded and those who remained alive have been threatened with physical reprisals.” This has “practically paralyzed the healthy forces of Russian Islam.”

            As a result, there has been “an uncontrolled growth in the number of muftiates which are not subordinate to major organizations,” they and mosques open without registering with the state, and “take official positions and speak in the name of all Muslims.” That has allowed them to undermine the relations between “traditional Muslims” and the state.

            “In a number of cases,” Tajuddin continued, these new groups have even received “financial” support from the authorities.

            Moreover, he insisted, “the extremists at the same time are penetrating into the leadership of the already existing major traditional unions of Muslims changing their priorities toward radicalization,” “seizing key positions” in these MSDs and their educational institutions, “discrediting traditional” schools, and calling for training mullahs abroad.

            In some places, the situation is “already critical,” the Ufa mufti said, although he carefully suggested that that was not the case in Chelyabinsk, where this meeting was taking place and whose mufti is subordinate to his own Central MSD, but apparently only because the civil authorities “support and cooperate” with the oblast Islamic establishment.

             Aleksey Grishin, president of the Moscow Religion and Society Analytic Center, seconded Tajuddin’s conclusions. He noted that 40 radicals had recently seized the Moscow Islamic University, installing as rector a man who for “seven years headed the Islamic department of the embassy in Saudi Arabia where he studied.”

            But unfortunately, the religious affairs specialist said, the authorities “looked the other way” rather than get involved. As a result, the radicals have become more brazen and now insist that they be allowed to “dictate conditions to state higher educational institutions which support Islamic training.”

            Such examples could be multiplied, Grishin continued, and consequently, the future looks grim because “the final goal of the extremists is complete control over the Russian Islamic space,” an end the radicals will likely gain if they continue to receive funding without oversight from the federal authorities.

            As has been the case for the last two decades, Tajuddin’s recipe, one with which Grishin almost certainly would agree, is that the government must intervene to close most of the MSDs or eliminate the radicals in their ranks and place the remaining ones under himself and the Central MSD.  

                But Tajuddin’s opponents within the Russian umma – and they are very numerous because of his slavish following of the Kremlin, his authoritarianism, and his personal habits which include frequent use of alcohol – may turn the tables and suggest that the MSDs and not the radicals are the source of many problems.

            While Russian officials generally prefer clear hierarchies and apparently would be pleased to have one for Russian Muslims just like the one that already exists in the Russian Orthodox Church, they have found that efforts to create an institution have invariably proved counterproductive.

            On the one hand, because the MSDs have no basis in Islamic law or practice, anyone who disagrees with one of them is at least in principle able to form another, a right not enjoyed in the Orthodox Church.  And on the other, if Moscow did manage to form a single supreme MSD of the kind Tajuddin would like, that in and of itself would create problems.

            It would mean that those who disagreed with that body would not form alternative structures in public view but would go underground just as they did in Soviet times and create an even more uncontrolled space within Russian Islam. And it would give that body and its leader the right to speak for all Muslims in Russia just as the Patriarch claims to speak for all Orthodox.

            Those realities suggest that Tajuddin is unlikely to get the thorough-going state support he seeks and that his latest attack on other Muslims and their leaders in the Russian Federation will only further weaken the MSD system and open the way for activists, radical and otherwise, to promote their ideas at the parish level.

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