Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ruble’s Slide Reducing Number of Hajis from Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 18 – Fewer Muslims make the haj this year than in the recent past not only because they must now travel by air and because the Saudis cut the Russian quota but 20 percent but also because the ruble’s fall and economic difficulties of the Russian population have raised the price and put the pilgrimage beyond the reach of many of the faithful there.

                With the exception of Chechnya and Ingushetia, Kavkaz-Uzel.ru reports, none of the regions in the North Caucasus Federal District as well as Adygeya in Krasnodar kray have filled the regional quotas that the Russian haj commission establishes each year on the basis of the overall Saudi quota for Russia (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/267329/).

            That will have at least three consequences: First, it will reduce the exposure of Russia’s Muslims to radical ideas during the haj, something Moscow may welcome. Second, it will anger many Muslims who viewed their ability to make the haj, something almost none of them had in Soviet times, as an achievement equivalent to the ability of other Russians to travel abroad.

            And third, it will make some of the Muslims in Russia more willing to listen to ISIS ideologues about the shortcomings of the Russian state and make others, probably a larger number, ready to make “mini-haj” trips by visiting Muslim holy places inside Russia, something that could lead to a new rise in Sufi influence given that Sufis typically control such sites.

            In North Osetia, this year’s quota was 160, but only 100 people have applied to go, while in Kabardino-Balkaria, the corresponding figures are 390 and 100. The largest decline, the Caucasus news service says, is in Daghestan where the total number making the haj this year will be far below the 6200 slots allotted.

            There are some exceptions to this pattern, largely the product of either direct government payments or contributions by businesses. In Stavropol kray, for example, the 100 slots are fully subscribed. In Ingushetia, the shortfall this year is less than 50 against a haj quota for that republic of 1400. And in Chechnya, more than 300 people are on a waiting list.

            Two years ago, some 40,500 Muslims from the Russian Federation made the haj. Last year, as a result of cuts in Russia’s haj quota by the Saudi authorities and rising prices because of the need to fly rather than go by bus, that figure was cut by almost 50 percent. This year, it appears the total number will be still smaller.

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