Staunton, September 23 – Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin, the head of the Council of Muftis of Russia, says that Moscow’s assimilationist policies, to the extent that they are intended or and implemented in such a way as to separate people from their cultural and religious traditions, are both divisive and dangerous
Among the ideas informing these policies are “the exceptionally harmful concept of the Tatars as a bi-confessional people, attempts to minimize the importance of non-Russian and non-Orthodox peoples in the history of Russia, tying their historical memory and national pride through the erection of monuments and holding of memorial dates” that fail to reflect diversity.
“We consider such steps destructive, above all in relation to national security and stability. They undermine the trust of non-titular peoples to their state, harm the strategy of the formation of a Russian civic identity, and gut the meaning of programmatic documents about nationality policy adopted earlier” (business-gazeta.ru/article/439920).
Gaynutdin’s comments came on the occasion of his re-election as head of the Muslim Spiritual Administration (MSD) of Russia, an event that was timed to correspond to the 25th anniversary of that organization, the 115th anniversary of Moscow’s Cathedral Mosque, and the 60th birthday of the mufti.
This meeting featured a greeting from Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that was read out by Igor Barinov, the head of the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs, a level of official representation far different than the one when the MSD of Russia was established in January 1994.
Then, in attendance besides Muslim dignitaries from across Russia and the Muslim world were Andrey Kozyrev, Russia’s foreign minister at the time, and Sergey Shakhray, then minister for nationality affairs, who stressed that the future of Russia depends on the cooperation of Muslims and Orthodox Christians.
In his speech, Gaynutdin stressed that over the last 25 years, Russia’s Muslims have recovered much that was lost in Soviet times, demonstrated to all that “we are patriots,” and defended “humanistic values” and “dialogue as the truest principle for the construction of societal relations.”
The MSD of Russia which he has headed now for 25 years, has grown from “no more than 40 parishes” in 1994 to more than 2,000 now, trained and installed imams for most of them, and restored a system of Muslim education to ensure that there will be enough spiritual leaders in the future.
Unfortunately, Gaynutdin continues, the MSD has not been able to solve all problems: Its financial base is anything but strong, many young people still choose to go abroad for Islamic education and do not return, and the Muslim community remains divided in ways that create risks for Muslims and Russia.
The various communities often compete among themselves in ways, he suggests, that provide a feeding ground for extremist ideas. “We do not consider [these parishes] radicals” but we worry that they may serve as “incubators for destructive ideas. Islam by its nature is a deeply social, open and transparent religion.”
There also remains a severe shortage of mosques in many places, especially in the larger cities; and Gaynutdin pledges to build more in Russia’s millionaire cities, including Moscow, in the coming decades, and to extend the reach of his MSD into more than 70 federal subjects, including many which currently lack a Muslim hierarchy of this kind.