Staunton, October 13 -- Moscow has implicitly recognized there are some 25 million Muslims in the Russian Federation by requesting additional haj slots not on the basis of supposed pent-up demand from Soviet times when it was almost impossible for Soviet Muslims to make the pilgrimage but rather using the Saudi formula of one annually for every 1000 believers.
Over the last two decades, Moscow has pressed for more than the up to 20,500 haj slots that the Saudis have offered, a figure that would imply there are 20.5 million Muslims in the Russian Federation. But it has always done so on the basis of an argument about unsatisfied demand from the past rather than on the need to up that number and hence the number of hajis.
Now that appears to have changed. Rushan Abbyasov, first deputy chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR) and an important player in setting Russia’s haj policy, has declared that “today the Russian Muslim umma represents about 25 million Muslims” and that they thus deserve 25,000 places (islamrf.ru/news/russia/rusnews/42580/).
He made that comment during a meeting with Saudi King Salman and expressed “confidence” that this number and not the smaller one would be “fixed” during an upcoming visit by the Russian delegation to Saudi Arabia that will reach an agreement with the Saudi ministry for haj affairs.
If in fact that happens – and Abbyasov would not have made this remark unless that were highly probable – Russia’s Muslims will now begin to invoke the higher number for their community, adding new confidence to its members and likely forcing the Russian authorities to make concessions to them on other issues as well.