Friday, December 14, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Stavropol has Ever More Muslims Ever More Radical Young Ones, Journalist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 14 – Stavropol Kray, a predominantly ethnic Russian region that Moscow has included in the North Caucasus Federal District, is experiencing “two far from simple trends – a growth in the size of the Muslim umma and the radicalization of its younger members,” according to a journalist who specializes on the region.

            In an article posted on yesterday, Anton Chablin argues that the solution to these problems lies with the preparation of “literate imams” in a “secular” Islamic institute who will be “loyal to the state” and be able to combat the growing influence of radicals from Daghestan and abroad (

            According to the kray’s Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD), there are now “almost 50” mosques, prayer houses and prayer rooms in Stavropol. But that statistic is far from exact, Chablin says, as are numbers for the umma itself. The MSD says there are 500,000 Muslims in the kray; the Atlas of Russian Religions and Nationalities says there are only 60,000.

            The truth, the journalist says, is “somewhere in between,” but there is no question that the Muslim community is growing rapidly.  Since the beginning of 2012, mosques have opened in Saban-Antusta and Kursavka, and five more are slated for construction in the near future, including in Kislovodsk and Pyatigorsk.

            Mosques, of course, “are not simply walls with beautiful ornamentation,” Chablin continues,  they are “above all an ideological institution, the functions of which entirely depend on the chief man, the imam.” If he is skillful, things go well, but if he isn’t, then he will lose control to ill-trained radicals.

            “Unfortunately,” and just like the Russian Orthodox Church, the local MSD lacks enough of the former, and the government at least in Stavropol kray lacks up to day information about the level of radicalism among the young. “One can only say with certainty that this level is constantly growing and that is the result of the work” of self-proclaimed mullahs and imams.

            Mukhammed Rakhimov, the kray’s mufti, understands this but says he lacks the necessary cadres to combat young people who were trained for “ten to fifteen years” in Arab countries and “especially in Saudi Arabia.”  When those people returned, they denounced mullahs here and even murdered some of them.

            But if Rakhimov recognizes the problem, Chablin says, he is “too soft” a man to deal with it and to develop the kind of “muscular” mullahs who can appeal to the young.  His MSD has organized some training courses for imams, but these do not produce either the numbers or the qualities needed.

            That in turn “opens space for the self-proclaimed preachers who offer members of local communities a primitive but very understandable scheme: all evil comes from the unbelievers.”  That leads to conflicts with the local mosques and even their division into “’moderates’” and “’radicals.’”

            The secular Pyatgorsk Linguistics University has stepped into the gap and offered special courses on Islamic theology, “but,” Chablin says, “for such a large region as Stavropol, this is a drop in the bucket” and there has been no progress toward training Islamic theologians at the North Caucasus Technical University or, as Aleksandr Khloponin, the presidential plenipotentiary to the North Caucasus Federal District, had promised, at the North Caucasus Federal University.

            Perhaps recent events in Stavropol, including clashes between secular and Islamist young people, will force the authorities to act, the journalist suggests, noting that “a secular Islamic Institute is as necessary as air to Stavropol kray, something on which however strange it may seem both Muslims and Islamophobes.”


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