Staunton, April 20 – In the course of a wide-ranging interview with the readers of Kazan’s Business-Gazeta, Aleksey Malashenko, one of Russia’s leading specialists on Islam, offers some important comments on Putin’s view of Islam, the relationship between traditional and non-traditional Islam in Russia and the need for more mosques in Moscow.
First of all, Malashenko, currently director of studies at Moscow’s Dialogue of Civilizations Institute, says that Putin approaches Muslims in an entirely normal manner: he doesn’t draw a line between Muslim and non-Muslim citizens of the Russian Federation, and he counts migrant workers among the 20 million Muslims there (business-gazeta.ru/article/343536).
Those are “the plusses,” the scholar says. The “minus” is that Putin views Islamic dissent and radicalism in an entirely “negative” way. “He is certain that Islamic dissent is the result of foreign influence,” and that position informs the behavior of the Russian special services even though there is good reason for identifying important domestic sources of such trends.
For the Russian leadership and the Russian people, “an Islamist, a fundamentalist, and a salafi is almost a curse word, but it seems to me,” Malashenko says, “that our leadership, including Putin is beginning to understand that Islam is not a religion like Orthodoxy, that it is very diverse and that there is a place for everything in it, including even political Islam.”
Putin has even indirectly spoken about this: yes, one must struggle against terrorism but first one must clarify who is a terrorist. The president doesn’t want to unify Islam on the basis of an analogy with Orthodoxy. And one must not forget that Russian Islam is part of world Islam, and everything that is there one way or other is present with us.”
Second, Malashenko cites with approval the conclusion of a Bashkir sociologist that “Salafism is part of a youth subculture. And why not?” It is a reflection of the desire of young people to get to the bottom of things, and it reflects the continuing tension between “traditional and non-traditional Islam.”
It is a mistake “to view all non-traditionalists as radicals, let alone extremists.” And it is important to remember that the traditional Islam which has existed among Russian Muslims for so long has today “exhausted itself,” at least for the young. That there should be dissent against it shouldn’t surprise anyone, he argues.
And third, Malashenko says that “there must be more mosques in Moscow” because there are a large number of the faithful and only “a handful” of Islamic centers. It is a matter of simple justice and helps ensure that everyone knows what is going on rather than existing in a situation where many go underground.
Why are so many against the construction of mosques? Malashenko asks rhetorically. His response is that some of this opposition reflects the view, true in part, that most Muslims in Moscow are migrants and that no one should do anything to help people who Russians view in a hostile way.
Opposition to such construction, he continues, is not always a reflection of Islamophobia but of “mosque-ophobia.” Muscovites simply don’t want mosques in their city and especially in their neighborhoods. There should be a small mosque “in every district” of the Russian capital in order to end the current situation where the city is full of “semi-underground prayer houses.”
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