Saturday, June 22, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Bashkir Imam Says No One Now Safe from Provocations

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 22 – “No one is safe from provocations,” an imam in Bashkortostan says, adding that in this regard this situation for Muslims there today is even worse than it was in Soviet times when the authorities persecuted people for their faith because now extremists are able to successfully engage in such actions at least as far as the media are concerned.

                In an interview to a local paper repeated on the portal, Rishat-khazrat Rafikov, the imam of Sterlitomak, together with Albert Shaykhutdinov, the head of the city’s department for work with public organizations, talked about this situation ( at

            The imam said that there is so much anger in society that it is relatively easy for extremists to engage in provocations and to expect them to work, adding that as someone who grew up in Soviet times, “when people were persecuted for their faith,” there was no as much anger and hostility about religion.

            Now, unfortunately, many are prepared to believe the worst about others.  Having lived in Sterlitamak for 24 years, Rafikov continued,  the situation has been “quiet” as far as religion is concerned. “No one has ever prepared any Wahhabis. There hasn’t been any extremism,” and those who the media say are extremists are completely unknown in the city.

            The imam said that he personally “would like to know” what Wahhabism is. He noted that he had asked officials but “no one knows the answer to this question.” Obviously, in a country as large as Russia, there may be extremists of various kinds, but they aren’t as common as many writers suggest and many Russians believe.

            According to the papers and television, many of these “extremists” have been trained abroad, but “we do not practice [that] and never send anyone there,” the imam said. “We have [all] the necessary arrangements for training future imams” right here, even though some young people prefer to go abroad, something “we can’t” forbid or stop.

            Asked whether he had personally encountered “representatives of non-traditional Islam among [his] parishioners,” Rafikov responded with a question of his own: “What is non-traditional Islam? Everyone talks about ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ Islam, but no one can clearly define the difference” between them.

            “The way to the mosque is open for all: for the righteous and for sinners,” the imam continued. He said that he knows most of those who attend and “to the extent possible tries to keep the situation under control.” If some “unknown” persons show up and try to deliver political messages, “we stop such activity.”

            Once several people who identified themselves as supporters of Hizb-ut-Tahrir. “Our imams immediately focused on them and used their homilies to talk” about what such people represent.  “We cannot prohibit them from coming to the mosque” but can limit them to prayer and ask them to remain silent.

            The Muslim community is not a monolith, he continued. There are differences, sometimes over small things like how to hold oneself while praying and other times about how to react to those who proclaim themselves to be “saints.”  The main principle of Islam is “absolute monotheism,” and consequently, those who bow down to such “saints” need to be warned.

            At the same time, “anyone who comes to the mosque does not go out and get involved in illegal drugs or alcoholism,” Rafikov said. 

            About all key issues, the imam concluded “we try to conduct explanatory work among parishioners and not only during homilies. We publish and freely distribute brochures with titles like ‘Islam Against Terror.’”  But unfortunately, many non-Muslims do not know that and accept as true statements that appear in the media.


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