Monday, September 7, 2015

Russification of Moscow’s History Angers Capital’s Muslims

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 7 – The celebration of the Day of Moscow was supposed to promote unity in the Russian capital, but the ways in which both Russian officials and Russian media “russified” the capital’s history, of which Muslims have long been a part, has offended many of the 2.5 million faithful there.

            In a commentary for the portal, Damir Mukhetdinov, the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of the Russian Federation responsible for ties with the Moscow government, says this russification of the city’s history is quite capable of stimulating ethnic and religious tensions (

            Archaeology, he writes, confirms that Muslims entered Muscovite lands “already in the 9th and 10 centuries.”  And they have been there ever since, “peacefully coexisting with the Orthodox and the Jews, with Buddhists and Catholics.” (His reference to Catholics is intriguing because Moscow does not consider them a “traditional” Russian religion.)

            “Historians have written hundreds of volumes in confirmation of the fact that not only Moscow but all of Russia from ancient times has always been connected with the world of the East by such close ties that in the West there has been disseminated in the past and to this day the idea about our country as ‘Greater Tataria,” Mukhetdinov says.

            “In reality,” he continues, “one must of course speak about the deep symbiosis of Russian-Orthodox and Turkic-Muslim culture which lies at the foundation of the unique Eurasian civilization, the heir of which is the current Russian Federation.”  That will be reaffirmed later this month when the Cathedral Mosque is solemnly reopened after its renovation.

            Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin has contributed an introduction to a photo album to be released on that occasion. In it he writes, “we value constructive relations with the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of the Russian Federation and highly value the fact that the Muslim community of the capital actively participates in inter-religious dialogue.”

            That makes his comments and those of the Russian media on the Day of Moscow of particular concern. Far too many journalists and commentators found it all too easy to slip into talk about the Tatar “yoke” and about the supposed antagonism of East and West and then send into the airwaves these anti-scientific ideas as if they were true.

            When he heard those thoughts expressed, Mukhetdinov says, he reflected that “yes, our history has known many things, including wars. But on the whole, Russian civilization has developed as a single whole. And these conflicts have had if one may express it so the charater of disputes within a family rather than between civilizations.”

            A good example of that concerned Kuzma Minin. On the Day of Moscow, he was treated as “an exclusively [ethnic] Russian hero.” But that is nonsense. Minin had Turkic and Muslim roots and thus “consolidated in himself both fundamental bases of our civilization,” Mukhetinov continues.

            One recalls Pushkin’s poem, “To the Slanderers of Russia,” the Muslim official writes, and wants to update it to advise “all those who do not accept the Eurasian character of our country and the Golden Horde past of Russia and of its “Muslim roots alongside its Orthodox ones” of just how wrong they are and how much they demean Russia.

            Perhaps, he implies, it will be easier for Russians to accept that reality when they can look out from the Kremlin walls and see “the golden crescents in the minarets” of the new Moscow Cathedral Mosque” which perfectly symbolize “the status of Moscow as the capital of a major world power with a colossal historic heritage.”

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