Staunton, February 17 – Prior to the Bolshevik revolution, most of the cities in southern and eastern portions of the Russian Empire had a Muslim quarter and a Christian one. The Bolsheviks by various means put an end to that pattern; but now it has reemerged in the Middle Volga and elsewhere, a trend with enormous potential consequences for the country as a whole.
In today’s issue of “NG-Religii,” Vladislav Maltsev says that in the Middle Volga this specific form of “Islamization” is affecting “both villages and urban micro-districts of the region” and thus contributing to the isolation of the two comunities one from the other (ng.ru/ng_religii/2016-02-17/4_povolzhie.html).
Maltsev does not address the more general trend of the emergence of Muslim districts in Moscow, St. Petersburg and elsewhere; but his comments about the cities in the Middle Volga and the south of Russia can and should be extrapolated to these urban areas as well.
Western countries are quite familiar with a situation where members of ethnic or religious groups choose to live in relatively or even entirely homogeneous neighborhoods, Maltsev points out. But Russian experts have generally assumed that in Russia, this pattern is absent. They are wrong.
“In the Middle Volga and Southern Federal Districts,” he writes, “similar processes are already clearly appearing here and there,” most obviously in villages where one or the other group forms an overwhelming majority but increasingly in major cities like Astrakhan and Kazan as well.
In Srednaya Elyuzan in Penza oblast, Maltsev says, there are 11 mosques for its 10,000 residents; in Belozerye in Mordvinia, there are nine Muslim center for 3,000 residents. In both, observers say, “clericalization has penetrated social life.” Only religious holidays are celebrated and civic ones like New Years are ignored.
But this process is also occurring in parts of major cities like Astrakhan and Kazan. In the former, whole neighborhoods have been taken over by Muslims, many of them from Daghestan, and women in the markets wear the hijab. And local mosques are often centers of religious radicalism.
In the latter, Maltsev continues, the Staraya Tatarskaya Sloboda which had been the center of Muslim religious life prior to 1917 is again becoming a Muslim neighborhood and a center of Islamic activism as well. Its Islamization has begun in the streets adjoining the main mosque there. There, the Moscow journalist says, he even saw a woman in a naqab.
“If this phenomenon becomes a stable trend,” he warns, “then it could have far reaching consequences and therefore it should not be ignored.” Among those consequences, he suggests, is Islamist radicalization and thus a threat to the stability of Russia.