Staunton, January 4 – Moscow’s alliance with Shiite Iran and Shiites in Syria – a move that Aleksandr Dugin says is “a Eurasianist fetwa” – is already generating concerns and even hostility among the 90 percent of Russia’s more than 20 million Muslims who are followers of the dominant Sunni trend in Islam.
And while as a result of Soviet anti-religious policies, the division of Sunni and Shiia may mean less to many of the faithful in Russia, the Kremlin’s tilt has the potential to radicalize some of the Sunnis there, likely leading at least some of them to be more receptive to radical Sunni ideologists of the Islamic State.
At the very least, this tilt will cause the Shiites of Russia to demand more representation in official structures. At present, none of the more than 80 Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) there is headed by a Shiite, and most of Russia’s Shiites consider themselves to be subordinate to the Caucasus MSD based in Baku and headed by the sheikh ul Islam, Allahshükür Pashazade.
Aleksandr Dugin, the influential Russian Eurasianist, has just posed on the wall of his VKontakte page the following declaration: “Solidarity with Shiites and the battle together with them against our common enemies, the Islamists – in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, and everywhere else as well is our Russian duty” (vk.com/wall18631635_5175).
Further, he continues, “a Russian-Shiite alliance is not simply geopolitics. It reflects a deep commonality of a religious type. Saudi Arabia must be destroyed. This is a Eurasian fetwa. Glory to the martyr Nimr al-Nimr,” the Shiite leader who was executed in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
In reporting this latest Russian tilt, the Ukrainian portal Apostrophe.com notes that the Russian media in recent days have made it appear that 86 percent of Russia’s Muslims are Shiites, an outrageous exaggeration like the supposed approval rating of Vladimir Putin (apostrophe.com.ua/news/world/ex-ussr/2016-01-04/shiitskaya-nasha-derjava-v-sotsialnyih-setyah-perepisali-rossiyskiy-gimn/46157).
Indeed, things have gone so far in that direction, the outlet notes, one Russia journalist, Pavel Pryanikov,, has even offered a new Russian national anthem, the words of which are “Russia is our Shiite power/Our country is beloved by Allah/A powerful faith. Ancient Glory/Mahdi worthy for all times.”
But as another Russian blogger, Andrey Malgin, who is now based in Italy, writes, while a few Shiites from Daghestan may go to Tehran, “the remaining millions of Russian Muslims somehow make the haj” not there but as is customary in Sunni Islam “to Saudi Arabia” (avmalgin.livejournal.com/5948206.html).
This issue isn’t going to go away soon. For background, see my essay, “Who Will Manage the Two Million Shiites of Russia?” Moscow Times, February 10, 2010, at themoscowtimes.com/news/article/who-will-manage-the-2-million-shiites-of-russia/399474.html.