Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Putin Says Government Banning of Islamic Works ‘Counterproductive’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 23 – Russian President Vladimir Putin says that Islamists have forced the Russian government to declare various religious works extremist, a process that he believes is often “counterproductive” and one that could far better be overseen and carried out by traditional Muslim authorities in the Russian Federation.

            On the one hand, Putin is offering the Muslim leaders of Russian something almost all of them want. But on the other, he is suggesting that they need to come together and agree on a common definition of “traditional” Islam, a proposal that at the very least will trigger a new round of competition among the major leaders of that community.

            In a wide-ranging speech to a conference in Ufa yesterday on the 225th anniversary of the creation of the predecessor of today’s Muslim spiritual directorates (MSDs), Putin said that that event represented the “official” recognition of Islam as “a traditional religion of Russia” and made Muslims into “true patriots” of Russia (

            Unfortunately, he continued, “certain political forces are using Islam or more precisely its radical trends which are not historically typical for Russian Muslims in order to weaken our state and establish on Russian territory conflict zones controlled from abroad as well as divisions among various ethnic groups for promoting separatist tendencies in the regions.”

            “I am convinced,” the Russian president said, “that such attempts must be countered by the faithfulness of Russia’s Muslims to their historical traditions and partner-like relations with representatives of other relations, above all with the Russian Orthodox Church.”

                Diversity is typical of all world religions, Putin added, but “in the service of their society and state, the Muslims of Russia always were united, defending the country from its external enemies and from any manifestations of extremism … This unity must be preserved and strengthened even today.”

            According to the Russian leader, “the new socialization of Islam must be considered as a development of the traditional Muslim way of life, thought, and view in correspondence with contemporary social reality and in opposition to the ideology of the radicals who seek to drive believers back into the Middle Ages.”

            To that end, “new forms of work” are important, including via “Muslim cultural centers, Islamic scientific-enlightenment centers, and youth and women’s clubs.” Russia’s Muslim leaders must speak out with a common voice both at home and abroad, something that is sometimes difficult, Putin suggested, because there are now 82 MSDs in the country.

            Russia’s Muslims, Putin said, must restore their own Islamic theological school “which will secure the sovereignty of Russia’s spiritual space and, what is important in principle, will be recognize by the majority of Muslim scholars of the world.” To that end, theological works domestic and foreign must be translated into Russian.

            The Russian president said that his listeners were certainly aware that “the state had been forced to apply preventive measures” by banning certain literature, a process that “was far from always being effective and often just the reverse. Prohibitions work poorly or have an impact exactly the opposite of what is expected.”

            Not surprisingly, Putin’s words were warmly welcomed by Talgat Tajuddin, the head of the Central MSD based in Ufa that views itself as the successor to the organization established by Catherine the Great and a man who has often styled himself as the mufti of Holy Rus in the manner of the Russian Orthodox patriarch.

            In a response to Putin, Tajuddin said that “traditional Islam cannot be varied. Traditional Islam is that which our ancestors have understood for more than 14 centuries, and one that they have sought to transmit to their successors.” And he suggested that his Central MSD is the obvious organization to keep this tradition alive.

            But many of Russia’s Muslim leaders disagree, and some of them, who have been at odds with Tajuddin for decades, even refused to come to this meeting ( Despite that, some Russian commentators already view Putin’s words as the strongest government tilt yet to the Ufa leader ( and 

            Tajuddin is certain to act on that in the coming days, but his opponents, including first and foremost Ravil Gainutdin of the Council of Russian Muftis (SMR) is certain to resist, setting the stage for a new round of struggle within the Muslim community of the Russian Federation and quite possibly opening the way for more radicalization of the kind Putin wants to avoid.

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