Thursday, October 9, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Muslims Who’ve Studied Abroad Now Major Source of Islamic Radicalism in Russia

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 9 – In the 1990s, Islamic missionaries from the Middle East and South Asia were the primary source of the spread of radicalism in the Muslim community of the Russian Federation, but now, a Moscow prosecutor says, the role of Muslims from Russia who study abroad and then return is much more important.


            Viktor Grin, Russia’s procurator general, made that and other statements in the course of a speech this week to a joint meeting of legislators from the Federal Assembly and the Federation Council for Inter-Ethnic Relations and Interaction with Religious Organizations (


            One reason that as many as “several thousand Russian citizens” according to Interior Ministry and FSB data have studied or are now studying in Islamic universities and medrassahs abroad is that the corresponding institutions inside Russia can’t compete. They don’t have the resources either from private contributions or from state support.


            “Analysis shows that these individuals not infrequently become not only active ideologues of religious extremism but also bring their radical teachings” back to Russia even though their ideas “are not characteristic for our country.” This has become, he said, “an additional factor generating inter-ethnic tension.”


Grin said that this trend makes it imperative to consider how to improve domestic Islamic education and how to regulate the flow of students abroad and the movement of migrants from southern parts of Russia and neighboring countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus into central Russian cities where they spark tensions with the indigenous population.


            Grin’s remarks suggest that Moscow may be considering imposing severe restrictions on Muslims who want to study in Islamic educational institutions abroad much as Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and several other Muslim-majority post-Soviet states have done.  But it is not clear whether at least in the short term that will work any better in Russia than it has elsewhere.


            The numbers of Muslims who have received training abroad is now sufficiently large, far more than Grin acknowledged this week, that such people are likely to continue to play a major role in many parishes -- especially those in major cities where the Russian authorities continue to refuse to allow new mosques to open and thus drive them underground.




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