Staunton, July 6 – Forty percent of those attending mosques today in the Russian Federation are Wahhabis, according to a mufti who has often expressed views held by Moscow officials, and they form the core of what he says could be a US-directed threat to transform Russia into the next Syria.
Mufti Farid khazrat Salman, the head of the Ulema Council of the Russian Association of Islamic Accord, made that statement at an Orenburg conference this week on “International Cooperation and Its Role in the Struggle with Terrorism” organized by the Russian State Oil and Gas University (svpressa.ru/society/article/70455/).
Such claims as hyperbolic as they are nevertheless will entail some serious consequences, further whipping up Russian public opinion against the United States and the West, on the one hand, and against Muslims both indigenous and immigrant, on the other. And it is precisely because of those outcomes that they are being made and merit attention.
At the conference, Salman said that what is taking place in Syria is less a military operation than “a psychological war” being conducted by the US, the countries of the Middle East and Turkey, “and if Turkey and the West win it, Syria will lose” and then the Russian Federation will become the next target.
According to the mufti, there are Wahhabis from the Bulgar jamaat of the Middle Volga now fighting in Syria “and after the conclusion of the war [there], the militants will return and fill the ranks of those who are inclined against the Russian authorities.”
He argued that “one of the main reasons for the present situation in Syria is that for almost ten years, the current ‘friends of Syria’ have insisted that the Wahhabis, Salafis, Muslim Brothers and others like them are part of one society, that it is necessary to make friends with them and reach agreements. They’ve tried to agree. And what has happened?”
What has dialogue led to in Daghestan, Salman asked rhetorically. “Have terrorist acts stopped?” Have the radicals stopped calling those who follow traditional Islam “unbelievers”? “Have members of band formations returned from the forests and mountains? Nothing of the kind.”
“Today,” the mufti continued, “they are trying to insist on talks with the radicals. The results would be lamentable: the destruction of the national clergy, the imposition of the anti-human ideology of Wahhabism-Salafism, inter-confessional war, and the collapse of the common state space.”
Salman acknowledged that there are no exact statistics on the number of Islamist radicals in the Russian Federation but suggested that “40 percent of those visiting mosques located on the territory of the country are supporters of Wahhabi ideology,” a figure far larger than anyone has ever given before.
Moreover, he continued, “Wahhabism is to be found not only in the North Caucasus and the Middle Volga. It is also firmly based in Saratov oblast.” And Salman cited a report from Moscow’s First Channel that the number of Wahhabis in the country now “exceeds 700,000 and that their centers are operating in all the regions of the country.”
Salman also cited the words of Syrian Mufti Ahmad Badreddin Hassun,, who told Interfax three weeks ago that “if Syria falls, then Russia will fall as well” because “those who came to Syria from Tajikistan and Kyrgystan will want to return to their motherland.” Hassun’s interview can be found at interfax-religion.ru/?act=interview&div=377.
Another participant at the Orenburg conference developed these points. Rais Suleymanov, who heads the Volga Center of Regional and Ethno-Religious Research and who writes frequently about Wahhabism in Russia says “the probability of ‘a repetition of Syria’ in Russia is quite great.”
“The formation of a single Wahhabi front from the North Caucasus through the Middle Volga to Central Asia has already taken place,” he said. “The rulers of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are not young and will soon leave the political scene. Their place may be taken by fundamentalists who will intensify their influence on supporters in Russia.”
Central Asian Wahhabis are already receiving “ideological and military” training in Daghestan,” he said, “and there are cases “when radical Islamists of the Middle Volga and the Caucasus are beingn sent to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan where they receive instruction from their more advanced fellow believers.”
In Russia, “initially the Wahhabis and the Taliban will spread their ideology throughout the population of the Middle Volga. After an enormous portion of the residents are under their influence, the radicals will begin to dictate to the remaining part of the population and to the authorities. An uprising will occur, and the Wahhabis will … convert the regions into a jamaat.”
Something similar has “already taken place” at Andijan in 2005, Suleymanov added. Then, the Uzbek authorities were able to suppress them. “Let us hope,” he continued, “that the Russian authorities will react in a timely fashion.” If that doesn’t happen, then everyone should remember that it is “only 900 kilometers from Kazan to Moscow.”
In other comments last week, Suleymanov said that Muslims serving in the Russian military and the appearance of more Islamic chaplains are already creating problems. Their “loyalty in the case of military operations in Muslim-populated areas and to the secular regime as a whole could come into question” (rosbalt.ru/federal/2013/07/04/1148907.html).