Monday, March 21, 2016

Russians Far More Hostile to Islam as Such than toward Russia’s Own Muslims, Survey Shows

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 21 – Russians display a very low level of tolerance to members of certain ethnic groups, especially those from the Caucasus, but surveys shows that that this is driven by ethnicity rather than religion, according to Aleksandr Verkhovsky, head of the SOVA Information and Analysis Center.

            One result of this, he says, is that the attitudes of Russians toward Muslims in Russia “are three times better than toward Islam in general. Islam is considered as an ideology that is dangerous and connected with terrorism” while Muslims are generally seen as people like any other (

            Thus, Verkhovsky says, “up to 40 percent” of Russians in various surveys express a negative attitude toward Islam, not surprising given Moscow media treatment of Islam, but only about 12 percent have a negative attitude toward Muslims with whom they come into contact in their daily lives.

            The SOVA analyst’s comments come in response to polls conducted by the Info-Islam news agency about attitudes toward Muslims in the two largest cities of Tatarstan, Kazan and Naberezhny Chelny.

            Just over half – 53.1 percent – of the population of that Middle Volga republic are Tatars and, as Info-Islam reports, “the majority of them are so-called ethnic Muslims, that is, people who define their religious affiliation as Islamic but do not follow all the canons of that religion” every day. They go to mosque on religious holidays but mostly not on days.

            According to the surveys, however, “the majority of the population has a positive attitude toward practicing Muslims and toward Islam in particular” and most Muslims fell completely comfortable with their situation in the republic.

            Vadim Kozlov, the director of Kazan’s Inter-Regional Expertise Center, notes that “only ten percent of the Muslims queried feel uncomfortable in Kazan” because of their faith, with three percent saying they are “generally uncomfortable” and seven percent saying that they are “not entirely comfortable.”  At the same time, 84 percent say they are fully comfortable.

            In Naberezhny Chelny, the survey of 6281 people found that Russians generally have a positive attitude toward the Muslims they live among, with fewer than one in ten saying they had negative attitudes toward them. More than half – 56 percent – said they viewed Muslims “as people like any other” and 30 percent expressed positive attitudes toward them.

                The situation elsewhere in Russia may be somewhat different. Bakhrom Khamroyev, president of the Society of Political Immigrants from Central Asia, says that “it isn’t easy to be a Muslim in Russia” given the attitudes and actions of the authorities. But his comments suggest that the problems he is concerned with have more to do with ethnicity than religion as such.

            Info Islam’s Guzel Mukhametshina notes that in all regions of Russia, there has been increased attitude to Muslims on the part of the security services but that in Tatarstan at least that has not led to a rise in tensions between followers of different religions, whatever some Russian Orthodox commentators have suggested.

            Indeed, she says, one can say that “Tatarstan is practically the Muslim heart of Russia, the doors of which are always open for friendship between peoples and representatives of various confessions.”

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