Staunton, April 12 – The Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church has always used priests from Russia to spread its influence and that of Moscow more generally in the former Soviet republics, but now the Moscow Islamic University has announced a new twist on that tactic: it will train Russian-speaking mullahs for the Muslims in Kazakhstan.
On the one hand, this program, which was agreed to yesterday by Erzhan Malgazhdyuli, Kazakhstan’s supreme mufti, and Damir Khayretdinov, the rector of MIU, reflects the growth of Islam in areas of Kazakhstan where many people including ethnic Kazakhs still speak Russian more often than Kazakh (interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=54984).
But on the other, it is clearly intended to expand Russian influence over the Muslim community there in much the same way the Moscow Patriarchate does with Orthodox Christians outside of Russia and to reduce the influence of mullahs trained outside of the former Soviet space. It is likely to be extended to other Muslim majority countries in Central Asia.
Initially, the agreement specifies, mullahs and imams from Kazakhstan will study in Moscow for three to six months, a length of time that suggests this program will be directed in the first instance at retraining those who are already leading congregations rather than training a new generation of such people.
If the MIU were to get involved in the latter task, it would have to retain students there for a minimum of several years and perhaps far more. But from the point of view of the Russian government, even this limited program could have consequences that the Kremlin is unlikely to be comfortable with.
Unlike the Moscow Patriarchate which only rarely sends its priests to study abroad, the MIU-Kazakhstan agreement calls for the establishment of close relations with Cairo’s Al Azhar University, perhaps the most important Muslim educational institution in the world and with the Haseki University in Turkey.