Staunton, April 23 – Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, head of the Council of Muftis of Russia, says the time has come from the Muslims of Russia to become more active outside of the walls their mosques, promoting and defending Islamic positions in the greater Russian society and attracting young people to work for the good of the umma.
Gainutdin’s call issued at a conference in Ufa this week where it was read out by his deputy, Saratov Mufti Mukadda Birbarsov passed unnoticed in the Moscow media, but it may be the most unwelcome news that the Kremlin has had from the Muslims of Russia in many years (ansar.ru/analytics/musulmanam-rossii-pora-vyjti-za-predely-svoej-mecheti).
On the one hand, on the eve of Duma elections, it almost certainly means that more Muslim leaders will take public positions on candidates and issues, defending those they view as friendly to Islam and denouncing those as hostile to the faith, and that the Muslim leaders and their parishioners will come into conflict with the increasingly active Russian Orthodox Church.
And on the other – and this is far more significant – Gainutdin’s words are the clearest rejection yet by a Muslim leader in Russia of what the government would like to see Muslim religious life to be, one centered on the mosque and not involved in public life except in limited symbolic circumstances.
That attitude with its roots in the tsarist and especially Soviet pasts remains strong. Indeed, some Russian commentators today still use the Soviet-era expression “non-mosque trend of Islam” as the equivalent of Islamist radicalism and thus something that must be opposed by the state.
Apparently, Gainutdin has decided to challenge that view in this way either because he believes he has nothing to lose – many experts close to the Kremlin have been attacking him in recent months – or because he believes that the situation in Russia is now such that Muslims have nothing to lose and much to gain by moving into the public space.
Whichever of these factors is at work and the likelihood is that both are, the coming weeks and months are likely to prove contentious with conflicts that had been kept within the mosque resurfacing with far greater force outside their walls – and with the Kremlin struggling to figure out how to contain this situation without losing even more control.