Staunton, October 22 – A new group appeared in Ukraine’s already complicated religious environment this week: the Ukrainian Muslim Center which its organizers say will link various groups of Ukrainians who have converted to Islam with other Muslim groups in order to “consolidate pro-Ukrainian Muslims and pro-Muslim Ukrainians.”
Discussions about the possibility of forming such an umbrella organization began in 2007, but personality clashes among some of the people involved and suspicions of outsiders about what such a group would in fact do – many feared it would be a Trojan horse for Islamist radicalism – prevented agreement on such a body.
Now, its organizers, Aleksandr Bondarenko, editor of the Ukrainian pages of the Slavic-Islamic League, Ali Nuriyev, an Istanbul blogger, and Alexandr Ogorodnikov of Odessa’s Slavic Jamaat, have announced the formation of the Ukrainian Muslim Center, a group they describe as “a necessary but insufficient step on the path” toward unity (slavic-islam.info/uk/content/1119).
The Maidan which Ukrainian converts to Islam overwhelmingly supported and the ongoing defense of Ukraine against Russian aggression, the three say, provided the impetus for announcing the formation of the new group, one that they hope will bring Ukrainian Muslims together and help them promote the causes of both Ukraine and Islam.
While some ethnic Ukrainian Muslims have been very active in public life, they note that “the basic mass of Muslims occupy passive positions.” And they point to the ongoing efforts of some “ideologized groups” to “alienate the Muslims of Ukraine both from one another and from their country.
The new center “does not aspire to the role of an all-Ukrainian Muslim organization.” It is open to all and will primarily devote itself to media work, including “the identification and union of those sharing these views and the carrying out of projects” for Ukrainian Muslims, other Muslims in Ukraine and Ukrainians more generally.
Whether anything will come from this announcement remains to be seen, but the group faces some serious challenges. Many Muslims from traditionally Islamic communities and many non-Muslims believe that converts from non-“ethnically Muslim” nations like the Ukrainians are likely to be radical.
Sometimes that is the case – converts of all kinds are typically more radical than longtime believers – but the perception that this is especially true in the case of those from nations which have a Christian tradition, a perception Moscow media have long sought to promote, is quite widespread.
Moreover, even in those cases where this perception is not true – and that is likely to be the case with the Ukrainian Muslims – those who think this way are likely to react in ways that may make the development of such a group far more problematic than would otherwise be the case.
But a much greater danger is the following: The Ukrainian Muslims now having announced this existence in this way open the door to those who are not Muslims and who are not pro-Ukrainian to engage in provocations designed to undermine both groups. That is something both Muslims and Ukrainians will have to be on guard against.