Staunton, October 7 – A week before Muslims in Russia and around the world will mark Kurban-bayram, a Moscow newspaper argues that the interests of Russia are in direct contradiction to those of the majority of Muslims of the world and that the rise of informal Muslim leaders inside Russia itself is making the situation there potentially explosive.
In a lead article today, the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” argue “it is not excluded that the restoration of harmony in the relations of the state and Muslims is already impossible. The radical views of the Islamic masses now obviously contradict the constitutional bases of Russia” whatever the increasingly useless official muftis say (ng.ru/editorial/2013-10-07/2_red.html).
Unregistered and therefore unofficial mullahs and activists are increasingly attracting the attention of and winning support from Russia’s Muslims. The recent court ban on a translation of the Koran has led some of these people to claim that “today, Russia is conducting a struggle against Islam and Muslims.”
And with the approach of the Muslim holiday, there is evidence that such extremism ideas may be taking a concrete form: Last week, outside the Historical Mosque of Moscow a Muslim preacher from Kyrgyzstan as arrested when he sought to recruit Muslims in the Russian capital to the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir organization.
The mosques where such things have taken place, the editors say, “belong to various Islamic organizations,” whose leaders at least “struggle among themselves for the right to be considered the most loyal to the state.” The state in turn mistakenly focuses on such declarations rather than on what is going on among their parishioners.
Moscow’s policies of supporting Iran and the Asad regime in Syria, the paper continues, clash with the views of the Sunni majority. As a result and especially at home, the Russian government has deprived itself of the possibility of taking into consideration the growing radicalization and uncompromising attitudes of the Islamic masses.”
As it has often done, the Russian government continues to rely on structures set up by Catherine the Great and to assume that if it controls the Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs), it controls the Muslim “religious minority.” That is the worse form of self-deception as the recent case involving the ban of the Koran has demonstrated.
“The official muftis” Moscow has installed “have very little authority among the millions of believers” in Russia, as any perusal of online discussions shows. Muslims are angered when the muftis who are their supposed leaders “recognize the supremacy of the Orthodox Patriarch and approve without question the foreign policy of the state.”
“Voices are now being heard that the institution of the muftiates has discredited itself,” the paper continues, voices that point to the de-institutionalization of Islam and the opening of Muslims in Russia to influence from Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Indeed, it may now be the case that “the only project of the Russian authorities that is succeeding in the area of Islamic policy is its backing of [Chechnya’s] Ramzan Kadyrov.” But that support has other consequences, including undercutting the possibility of democracy there and elsewhere.
The editors conclude that it may no longer be possible to “restore harmony” between the Russian state and the Muslims of the Russian Federation, but that any steps in that direction will certainly require Moscow to look past the increasingly “useless” muftis who head the equally useless MSDs.
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