Sunday, April 28, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Without New Mosques, Muslim Immigrants to Russia Will Be Ghettoized and Radicalized, Mufti Warns

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 28 – If the Russian authorities not allow the construction of new mosques in cities where there are increasing numbers of followers of Islam, they will help create and then face an even more dangerous problem, the ghettoization and radicalization of those people, according to the head of the Council of Muftis of Russia (CMR).

                In an article in the current issue of the Russian Muslim newspaper, “Islam Minbare,” Mufti Ravil Gainutdin says that Islamic institutions and the mosque in the first instance playthe key role in the adaption of immigrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus  to the realities of Russian daily life (

            “Why has this happened?” he asks rhetorically. Because “having come into a large Russian city, a Muslim cut off from his normal way of life and from his customary circumstances encounters a mass of problems and often goes into a state of shock in the new situation and in the conditions of an alien land that are new for him.”

            Such an immigrant will “seek a familiar milieu and go to the mosque, just as an Orthodox immigrant will go to church or a Jewish one to a synagogue. Bu, as is well known, Gainutdin says, there aren’t enough mosques in major Russian cities for local residents let along for migrants” who turn to them for assistance.

            Consequently, “Muslim migrants organize in a massive way their own alternative religious infrastructure which is cut off from local Muslims, thereby making the process of integration impossible in principle.”

            Prohibiting the construction of new mosques thus “by a direct path leads to the enclavization of immigrants and the minimizing of their contacts with the local population,” Muslim and non-Muslim alike. And it means that indigenous Muslim leaders don’t know “WHO or what is most important, WHAT, is being said in these alternative mosques and prayer rooms.”

            People cut off from the broader society in this way “are a most favorable milieu for the dissemination of all kinds of attitudes, ideologies and manifestations of extremism,” Gainutdin continues, while those who find a common place with their co-religionists in their new homes are not.

            There have been many examples of successful integration of immigrants around the world and in Russia itself.  In the 19th century, for example, Muslims from Bukhara and Khiva who came to Siberia were quickly integrated into the Siberian Tatar community, and others who went to the Middle Volga did the same with Muslim communities there.

            Russia’s Muslim organizations and especially those in the SMR already have “great experience in this direction,” Gainutdin continues.  “We have long and successfully worked with Musim immigrants and cooperate with the Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) of the countries from which the immigrants come – Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.”

            The SMR is working to create a Council of Muftis of the CIS in part because of the need to work with immigrants to the Russian Federation. It has published an almanac on this issue, and it has released films about the integration process, including one called “Muslims whom Russia Can Be Proud Of.” And the SMR is also involved in translating and publishing books on Islam in the languages of the immigrant communities, including one of his own in Kyrgyz and Kazakh.

            Obviously, the process of integration involves both migrants and the communities into which they come, Gainutdin says. The Muslim migrants need to adapt, but the Russian community needs to help them do so – and the institutions of Islam in the Russian Federation are best placed to help the broader society achieve that end.

            That process begins when Russians stop thinking of migrants “only as a work force” and view them as people with the same range of needs and requirements as they themselves have. Unfortunately, Russians have a long way to go in that regard, and they too need to do more to make their country welcoming to immigrants.

            Russia is going to have even more immigration in the future, Gainutdin points out, and without such efforts by both sides, the current problems between immigrants and Russians will not get better. Indeed, “irresponsible populist declarations [against the construction of mosques] will only make the existing situation more difficult.”

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