Monday, July 19, 2021

Muslims of North Caucasus Need Schools like those of Tatarstan’s Jadids and of Muslim Universities Abroad, Shishkina Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 13 – If the Muslim educational institutions in the North Caucasus are to be attractive to the population there and effective in providing both religious and secular training, they need to draw on the “new method” schools of the Jadids of Tatarstan in the 19th century and on contemporary Muslim universities abroad, Alisa Shishkina says.

            If they continue to rely on the traditional approach of rote memorization of the Koran, the Higher School of Economics expert says, they will lose their students either to radical underground groups, something Moscow certainly doesn’t want, or to secular schools, something the Muslims of the region don’t (

            The Muslim educational system in the North Caucasus experienced an explosive but chaotic growth in the first decade after the collapse of communism. Hundreds of medrassahs and other Muslim schools were set up, often with the help of foreign groups with their own agendas. Both the Russian state and the traditional Muslim establishment have tried to rein them in.

            Each has confronted problems in doing so. The state, when it suppresses these institutions, discovers that those who might attend them will simply attend underground schools offered by radicals or seek to travel to Muslim universities abroad. And the Muslim establishment finds that its promotion of a one-size-fits-all system offends local sensibilities.

            The best solution, Shishkina argues, is one that would combine the principles of jadidist education, which combined traditional Islamic training and secular subjects within Muslim educational institutions, and opportunities for students to study at the most prestigious Muslim universities abroad.

            The Russian state won’t like either, but the alternatives is a collapse of the formal Muslim educational system in the North Caucasus and the radicalization of those who choose to go underground. The Muslim establishment will have its own problems because it will sense that it is losing control by not being able to impose a single approach.

            In thinking about the Muslim educational system, one must keep in mind that it has the same three tiers it had a century ago, small groups organized around families and individual mosques, medrassahs, and Muslim universities. The second is the most formative and involves as many as 10,000 students a year in Daghestan alone (

            Moreover, one must remember, Shishkina insists, that students attend such schools not only to realize their identities but also in the pursuit of careers. They need to be confident that what they are studying will lead to real jobs and not leave them with a diploma that has not real earning power.

            Many who attend these schools assume they will become imams, but there is as yet not sufficient support for that. And they need to consider other positions, including among others in the Russian penal system where they are needed to prevent the radicalization of Muslims behind bars in Russia.

            The students also have to be confident that they know enough of secular subjects to be able to migrate into other parts of the economy, something a jadidist approach permits but that the archaic system of memorization of the Koran does not. Keeping all these things in mind is critical, but it does not make the elaboration of a system easy.

            The Muslim establishment in Russia has been trying to come up with a plan since 2006, but so far, at least in the North Caucasus, it has achieved far less in practice than it appears to have on paper.

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