Friday, January 24, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Sixty-Two Muslim Leaders Have Been Assassinated in Russia Since 1998

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 24 – Sixty-two muftis, deputy muftis, leading imams and sufi sheikhs have been assassinated in the Russian Federation by Islamist extremists since 1998, an enormous number considering the size of the country’s Muslim population and a compelling reason for banning Wahhabism there, according to Rais Suleymanov.

            The controversial RISI specialist on Islam and ethnicity made those comments in the course of a discussion this week organized by “Pravoslavny vzglyad,” a portal devoted to the analysis of religious and public affairs issues from the perspectives of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriachate (

                Despite Moscow’s prohibition of Islamist groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Jamaat Tablig, and Tair wa al-Hijra, Suleymanov says, it has not yet decided to do the same with respect to Wahhabism which represents a clear and present danger both to Muslims and to Russian Orthodox Christians as well.

            Silantyev asks the Orthodox to “imagine for a second if such a number of bishops and metropolitans had been killed in the Russian Orthodox Church.” That would be “a complete nightmare, he continues, and Muslims are numerically significantly smaller than the Orthodox” in Russia.
            “Unfortunately,” the RISI researcher says, “not infrequently among the Orthodox one hears the view” that the deaths in the Muslim hierarchy are purely “Muslim affairs” and something that Orthodox Christians should not get involved with.” That is “a deeply mistaken opinion.”

            On the one hand, Silantyev says, it is simply wrong to “stand aside” while Muslim radicals attack the Muslim traditionalists.  And on the other, the Muslim radical have begun to attack Orthodox Christians and are in some places even insisting that Orthodox clergy convert to Islam.

            Roman Silantyev, a specialist on Islam known and often criticized for his attacks on Muslims of all stripes in the Russian Federation, seconded Silantyev’s argument. He said that “radical Islam represents the main threat to Russia because more people in Russia die at the hands of the Wahhabis” than from any other attackers.

            For every Russian “killed by fascists,” he continues, there are “a thousand who are killed by Wahhabis.” 

            Their remarks and those of others in or close to the Moscow Patriarchate come in response to a call earlier this month for banning Wahhabism from Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Patriarchate’s department for church and society relations and a frequent articulator of the views of Patriarch Kirill.

            Many of those surveyed by “Pravoslavny vzglyad” including Archpriest Georgiy Krylov of Strogino, Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov of the Patriarchal Commission on the Family and Motherhood, and Igumen Sergiy of Moscow simply expressed their  support for Chaplin’s call. But three made comments that provide a glimpse into the Church’s platform on this issue.
            Father Pavel Gumerov, a noted pastor in the Russian capital, said that Russian Orthodox Christians must understand that Orthodox Muslims do not consider those who engage in terrorism even if they do so under religious banner real Muslims just as Orthodox Christians do not consider those who do so under Christian banner real Christians.
            At the same time, however, he argued that “Wahhabism frequently is masked under traditional Islam recruiting mullah who in turn recruit parishioners” or send them to medrassahs where Wahhabis are instructors. Consequently, Russia needs “super harsh” laws to ban Wahhabism or else “a partisan war will begin on the territory of Russia.”
            Archmonk Makarii Markish of the Ivanovo-Vonesensk bishopric, agreed saying that the Orthodox Church must support the state against the Wahhabis and also support traditional Muslims against such extremist groups.
Finally, Kirill Frolov, head of the Association of Orthodox Experts and a prominent civic Orthodox activist, said that the Orthodox Church must simultaneously oppose any Russian conversions to Islam and conduct missionary work among traditionally Muslim peoples. Russians are a Christian nation, but there are no Muslim peoples in the region, he argued.
As an example, he points to the Kyrgyz where there are now an enormous number of Protestants. What that mean is that the Kyrgyz “are not rooted in Islam and that Islam has success only where the Orthodox mission is weak.”   Consequently, he argued, “our Orthodo niche must be strong.”
Three things about these various statements are disturbing. First, these comments suggest that the leadership of Russian Orthodox Church has apparently concluded that it can now break the unwritten commitment it had with the leaders of the other “traditional” religions of the Russian Federation and can launch missionary efforts against them.

Second, these remarks highlight the Patriarchate’s obsession about Russian national identity and any possibility that Russian and Orthodox will not be equivalents even as the church denies similar claims by the leaders of non-Russian nations and non-Orthodox peoples and in particular Islamic ones.

And third, they suggest that Moscow is preparing a new offensive against Islam as such – the Patriarchate is unlikely to be far ahead of the Kremlin -- even if it casts its efforts as being against Islamist extremism. All of these moves are certain to spark a reaction and possibly lead to more rather than less radicalism and violence.

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