Thursday, June 18, 2015

More than Two-Thirds of Daghestani Muslim Organizations Not Registered with Government

Paul Goble


            Staunton, June 18 – Only 804 of the 2552 religious organizations in Daghestan are registered with the state, or only 31.5 percent. These are overwhelmingly Muslim groups, and because officials routinely understate the number of religious organizations in their reports, the actual share of unregistered mosques, mektabs and medrassahs is in fact much lower.


            That is just one of the conclusions offered by Ruslan Gereyev, the director of the Center for Islamic Research in the North Caucasus, about Daghestan, which has “the highest density of Muslim religious institutions” in Russia and one in which Muslim groups increasingly function independently of the secular authorities (


            This division recalls the Soviet-era one in which there were a tiny number of officially registered and “working” mosques and a much larger number of “unofficial” and “underground” ones, but it is now more serious, Gereyev suggests, because the numbers of the latter are now much greater and they are operating almost as an alternative society.


            Increasingly, he says, the Muslim organizations serve as an alternative educational system in which secular subjects are given short shrift, an alternative court system which applies shariat not civil law, and an alternative registration system, with an increasing number of young people registering their marriages not with the state but with the mosque.


            At the present time, Gereyev says, there are more than 1900 mosques functioning in Daghestan, a significant fraction of the total number of mosques in Russia as a whole. And there are more than 10,000 Muslims studying in Islamic educational institutions in that North Caucasus republic.


            There are approximately 180 maktabs, most of which are attached to mosques and provide episodic instruction. They “spontaneously arise and cease their activities,” seldom come into contact with government officials, and limit their curriculum to the study of the Koran and Muslim prayers.


            At the next level, there are 29 non-governmental Islamic educational institutions or medressahs, in which at present “more than 1500 students” are enrolled.  These are supposed to be registered with the state and follow governmental rules about coursework, but in fact “only 13” of the 29 have government licenses.


            These institutions generally function independently, have their own buildings, and attract students from a wide area unlike the mektabs which usually only get students from the immediate community. Typically, their course of instruction lasts four years. Above them are the Islamic universities. There are eight of these registered, and they have “more than 1200” students.


            Most of the students at all three levels are between 12 and 23,and they rely on the Internet. Women form “about 25 percent” of the total number enrolled, Gereyev reports. There is no tuition with expenses covered by the mosque community and local governments, even when they do not register or report the existence of these Muslim educational institutions.


            Makhachkala has been trying to improve the level of registration since 2011, but it has not had great success. Nor have the  civil authorities had much success in limiting the broader impact of these institutions. They haven’t been able to control the influx and use of extremist religious literature or prevent Muslims from using these as shariat courts.


            All this points to the emergence of a Muslim community that is organizing itself independently of the Russian state and thus capable of functioning in at least some respects as an alternative to that state. As a result, this arrangement may be as much of a threat to Russian control as are the radicals who attract far more attention.      


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