Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Daghestanis Again Will Form Half of Russia’s Pilgrims to Mecca This Year, Muslim Leader Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 30 – Even though Daghestan forms only two percent of the population of the Russian Federation and only 12 percent of that country’s historically Islamic nations, residents of that North Caucasian country will again this year form half of the Russian contingent on the pilgrimage to Mecca, a measure of just how Islamic that republic is.

                At a press conference in Makhachkala yesterday, Magomedrasud Omarov, spokesman for the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Daghestan, and Akhmed Khabibov, who helps organize support for hajis from the republic, talked about the state of the haj in that extremely religious North Caucasus republic (riadagestan.ru/news/2013/4/29/156068/).

                Omarov said that Daghestan had been given a quota of 8,000 haj slots this year, some 500 fewer than last year, because of increasing demands from Muslims in other parts of the Russian Federation, but that he expected that Daghestanis would, as they have in the past form about half of the 20,500 slots that the Saudis have given Moscow this year as in the past several.

                (In fact, at least over the last four or five years, hajis from the Russian Federation have, despite these quotas, often numbered far more. In 2011, for example, Saudi officials said that almost 40,000 Muslims from Russia made the haj, and Riyadh has put increasing pressure on the Russian authorities to rein in their citizens in this regard.)

            One reason that the number of Daghestani hajis is so large is that there are a number of charity organizations in that republic who fund the pilgrimage of those who otherwise could not afford it. One donor alone, Suleyman Kerimov, reportedly will be financing some 3,000 Daghestanis again this year.

            Omarov noted that “there have been years when Daghestan received as many as 12,000 or even more haj slots.” He said that the faithful in Daghestan should see the decline as something positive because it means that Islam is “strengthening” in other parts of the Russian Federation.

            According to the MSD spokesman, since the end of Soviet times, “one can boldly assert that the number of Daghestani pilgrims totals approximately one million,” a figure that he said does not include those who have visited the holy places outside of the haj times. If that is true, then almost one in every three Daghestanis may have made the haj.

            Omarov added that Moscow has done everything it can to simplify the process of obtaining the necessary travel documents for Daghestani hajis.  “Over the last three years,” he said, “there has not been a single case when an individual was not able to take part in the haj” because of problems with OVIR. 

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