Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Future Depends on the Relationship between Ethnic Russians and Muslims in the Country’s Largest Cities, Mufti Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 7 – Russian society, including its Muslim community, is “becoming ever more polarized and atomized,” according to a leading mufti, who argues that this is especially dangerous given that the future of the country depends on the elaboration of a new relationship between ethnic Russians and Muslims in the country’s largest cities.

            On his blog today, Damir-Khazrat Mukketdinov, the deputy chairman of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of European Russia, offers the seventh installment of his series on developments in the Muslim community of the Russian Federation, an installment that focuses on Russian society more generally and the place of the umma within it now and in the future (

            According to the mufti, one cannot analyze the situation among Russia’s Muslims without a clear understanding of what is happening with Russian society more generally, but when one looks at that, one sees a large number of “trends which are unfavorable for all of us, trends which over the last few years have slowly but steadily increased their influence.”

First of all, Mukhetdinov says, one must note that “Russian society like the Russian umma is becoming ever more polarized and atomized,” the result of the destruction of “social ties and their replacement by business interests in various forms, from corporate culture to communities of various social and professional strata.”

That development “in no way assists the formation of a single social organism,” he continues, adding that “the degradation of the institution of the family and the understanding of marriage also affects” that outcome.

Second, and this is especially true among the young, there is growing alienation among the young toward the Russian state, an attitude expressed in relations between young people and the police and between them and the political system as a whole.  The loyalty to particular politicians is “not at all connected with the relations of simple citizens to the existing political system.”

And third, and in Mukhetdinov’s view, this is the most important and defining characteristic trend in Russian society, there is an ongoing “loss of cultural orientations and traditions.” The loss of those the Soviets sought to impose led to the demise of the Soviet system; the loss of those remaining today can have a similar impact.

Many of the ideas for creating a new social compact, Mukhetdinov continues, “are not connected any of the preceding traditions of Russia as a political formation, neither tsarist nor Soviet.” Instead, they are imported from abroad and are being grafted on something that is already in terrible trouble

This reality has serious consequence for the relationship between Russian society and Russia’s Muslims, the mufti continues. Because it means that today “there are no guiding principles which could help [the two sides] find a common language and develop a dialogue” to resolve their differences.

The “70 years of the construction of communism alienated Russian society not only from religiosity but also created a unique stereotype about the city as a place where only civic ways of life are adopted.”  And because of that, there is no framework for Russians to conceive of “Islam and the growth of its representatives within the framework of major cities.”

Protests by Muscovites against construction of new mosques are “based not on experience of interacting with Muslims but on the absence” of such interaction. And consequently, there is no understanding of the reality that “Moscow is a poly-cultural city, a megalopolis of the 21st century.”

            Those officials who seek to regulate these relations by using “soviet methods of forming religious (ethnic) identity” by setting rules for the number of mosques per district “without the ideology of communism looks at the very least,” Mukhetdinov says, “shortsighted” and counter-productive.

            Moreover, “the striving toward segregation between the Russian community and the Russian umma (something that is happening from both sides)” is the result yet again of “ideological conceptions which have come to use from abroad” rather than those growing out of indigenous traditions.

            The two sides need to find “points of contact in the social space” despite this lack of a traditional foundation, and they need to do so in particular in Russia’s largest cities, Mukhetdinov argues. That is because the numbers of Muslims in major Russian cities is “rapidly increasing.” And thus, the best place to look for interaction is at the municipal level.

            “Beyond any question,” the mufti concludes, “the level and character of the activity of Muslim organizations is the most important factor in the course of changes in the relationship between the umma and society.” The former “must learn not only to speak with Russian society, but to show respect and find compromises” that do not undermine anyone’s rights.    

            If that is done in a competent and honest way, he says, “the birth of not simply mutual understanding between Russian society and the umma will be possible, but also a new tradition of Russian community can be established precisely in the cities and megalopolises of the country.”

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