Sunday, December 23, 2018

Moscow May Soon Face a New Kind of Unification Drive by Russia’s Muslims from Below

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 22 – Despite its preference for single power verticals in all things, the Kremlin has avoided promoting one among Russia’s Muslims, having concluded that competition among the various trends and administrative structures within that group give the civil authorities the best chance to control it.

            Because Islam has no clergy as such and therefore no clerical hierarchies such as those the tsars, commissars and now Russian officials have tried to create in the form of various Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSD), none of which are canonical within Islam, most Muslims in Russia agree with that kind of diversity.

            But Islam by its nature is fundamentally different from Christianity, and mullahs and muftis are hardly the only sources of authority within it, there is another kind of unity that far more Muslims favor: the unity of the ulema or learned specialists who issue rulings known as fetwas on issues of concern to the faithful.

            This week that impulse was on public view at the Bolgar Islamic Academy when a conference of ulema from various parts of the Islamic community of Russia discussed the possibility of convening an all-Russian congress of the ulema that would presumably create a more permanent institution ( and

            Speaking to the group, Tatarstan Mufti Kamil khazrat Samigullin said that such a step was needed to “raise the status of the ulema in Russia,” given the fact that in the Muslim community such legal scholars have received far less attention than the heads of the more than 80 MSDs that have sprung up across the country.  He was supported by other speakers as well.

            Were such a body to emerge, it would constitute a double challenge to the Kremlin. On the one hand, it would likely coordinate the issuance of fetwas thus allowing the Muslims of Russia to speak with a united voice of many issues, including those that the state has a vested interest in.

            And on the other, it would undermine the importance of the various MSDs by creating an alternative body that is canonical within Islam and that could thus challenge these institutions which were established and, in most cases, continue to function as a form of state control over the faithful.

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