Thursday, October 3, 2019

Gaynutdin’s Comments about Muslims in Russia Continue to Provoke Discussions

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 1 – Claims by Ravil Gaynutdin, head of the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR), that there are more than three million Muslims in Moscow and that their numbers will be increasing there and elsewhere (  continue to provoke discussions in Russia.

The latest to join this discussion on this most sensitive of issues are Konstantin Kazenin, the director of the Center for Regional Research at the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service  and Irina Starodubrovskaya, a specialist on regional development at Moscow’s Gaidar Institute ( 

Kazenin focuses on the demographics of the Muslim community of Russia. Much of its projected growth depends on in-migration from Central Asia where fertility rates are higher but far from stable. If they remain at three plus children per woman, there is likely to be further pressure for the younger generation to migrate to Russia, pushing up the number of Muslims there.

The demographic behavior of the second generation of immigrants is also “unpredictable” as they may either maintain the fertility rates of the countries they came from or adopt the fertility rates of the country into which they have moved, Kazenin says. As for third and succeeding generations, they will copy the behavior of people in their new country.

As for the situation in the North Caucasus, one can speak of two North Caucasuses, the Western part (Karbardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Adygeya and North Ossetia), where fertility rates resemble those of the rest of Russia, and the Eastern including Daghestan, Chechnya, and Ingushetia, where they are higher.

In part this reflects efforts to recover from military losses over the last two decades; and in part, it is the product of the continuing strength of tradition in these republics as opposed to those in the west.

Starodubrovskaya for her part addressed the issue of a possible “Islamic threat” to Russia. She says that there are various points of view on that, with some holding that the situation now is the calm before a new storm and others suggesting that the situation will improve if Russia adopts the right strategy and includes rather than antagonizes its Muslim population.

“If the state in its policy will take into consideration the interests of Islamic youth, draw it into dialogue and allow peaceful forms of protest and not permit any restarting of ‘a vicious cycle of violence,’ then these more negative scenarios can quite possibly be avoided,” the Moscow scholar says.

One issue of importance in this regard is the number of mosques.   There should be enough so that Muslims will feel free to live anywhere in major cities rather than clustering around a few mosques and thus forming the basis for Islamic ghettos.  Many think mosques spread radicalism, but in fact, it is the absence of mosques that opens the way for underground activities.

The state should not be funding the construction of mosques just as it shouldn’t be paying for churches or any other religious facilities, she says; but neither should it be in the business of preventing one set of believers from having a religious facility while denying that opportunity to others. That is a recipe for disaster.

“If Muslims understand that no one is interfering with their ability to practice Islam, if they do not feel discrimination on a religious basis, this is the most important precondition for creating a situation in which the cyclical growth of force … does not become a reality,” Starodubrovskaya says.

Immigrants may bring radicalism with them, she adds; but at the same time, many immigrants are fleeing from radicalism at home and therefore are among its most stalwart opponents when they arrive in Russia.

Asked about allowing the introduction of shariat law in Russia, she says that ever more countries are allowing regions with religious minorities to use religious laws to govern their lives.  “I do not see problems if in Muslim regions ,,. people could but are not required to use the norms of the shariat for example in family or commercial law.”

“In fact,” she says, “this is happening now: certain analogues of shariat courts officially act in regional muftiates” and act as courts.  But at the same time “there are several tactical considerations which do not allow [her] to support proposals for the full legalization of the adoption of shariat norms.”

On the one hand, that would likely sharpen conflicts among various Muslim trends and lead to radicalization of some.  And on the other, it has happened that the widespread existence of shariat courts has been used by radicals to insist that Muslims use only them and not the civil ones, thus dividing society.

The best policy with regard to such religious courts, Starodubrovskaya suggests, is therefore “’neither legalize nor prohibit.’” 

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