Sunday, May 17, 2015

‘The Chief Distinction of Traditional Islam is Loyalty to the Russian State,’ Suleymanov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 17 – Russian ideologues have often celebrated and called for the promotion of what they call “traditional” Islam as against other trends within the faith, but they have rarely provided a clear definition given the diversity within Islam and the likelihood that any definition would end by offending and thus radicalizing some.


            But now Rais Suleymanov, a controversial specialist on Islam in the Middle Volga who works at the Russian Institute of National Strategy, has provided just such a definition, and it is clear that “traditional” Islam is just another term for Muslims who are “loyal to the Russian state” and don’t seek any change in its political system.


            The chief implication of such a definition, of course, is that anyone who is not identified by people like Suleymanov as a traditional Muslim is therefore politically disloyal and is appropriately the target of the force structures of the Russian state, a view that could lead to alienation among and a crackdown against many of Russia’s Muslims.


            In an interview to Yana Amelina for this past week, Suleymanov offers the following definition: “Traditional Islam for Russian Muslims,” he says, “is that form of Islam which historeically was accepted by one or another indigenous peoles of Russia, teaches peaceful coexistence with people of other religions, is loyal to the Russian state and does not have as its goal the change of [Russia’s] political arrangements” (


            Just in case anyone missed the point, Amelina summed up Suleymanov’s ideas in the first sentence of her write-up of his remarks: “The chief distinguishing feature of traditional Islam is in loyalty to the Russian state,” and the main characteristic of all other and thus “non-traditional” Islam involves protest against it.


            In the course of a wide-ranging interview in which he repeated his past attacks on Tatarstan and its political leadership, Suleymanov made a number of other points which point to the way in which he believes his definition of traditional Islam should be used by the Russian authorities. Among the most important are the following:


  • “The struggle with the popularity of religious radicalism must be conducted by a combination of force methods and propagandistic ones,” including the use of the Internet, in order to show Muslims that the radicals are dangerous and come to a bad end.
  • Non-traditional Islam attracts many less for its theological positions than because it is a protest movement.
  • “The only example in Russia where traditional Islam has achieved in practice a complete victory over Wahhabism is Chechnya under the Kadyrovs father and son. They recognized,” Suleymanov says, that force alone wouldn’t work but that one must advance an ideological point of view.  As a result, of course, “Ramzan Kadyrov de facto has imposed shariat law on Chechnya."
  • The Russian Orthodox Church must oppose radical Islamism not only by refusing to deal with Muslim Spiritual Directorates that are controlled by the radicals but also by bringing into the church members of ethnic groups who are traditionally Orthodox lest their members be attracted to Islamist radicalism as some neophytes have.
  • In Tatarstan, Suleymanov says, “Islamic fundamentalism has gradually replaced civic national separatism.”  That can be countered by promoting Russian language and boosting the Kryashens who, if they are counted as a separate nation, will deprive the Tatars of a majority in that republic.   

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