Sunday, September 5, 2021

New Textbook Seeks to Promote Civic Identity among Russian Muslim Religious

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 5 – A new textbook for students preparing to be mullahs and imams or being retrained after such training abroad seeks to give new content to the Russian concept of “traditional Islam” by promoting civic identity among Muslims and rejecting any suggestion that Islamic values and Russian traditional values are in any way in conflict.

            The textbook, entitled Civic Identity of Muslims of Russia, argues that the basic principles of Islam as laid down in the Koran and the hadith and those of traditional Russian values as defined by the Russian National Security Strategy are mutually supportive and thus re-enforce one another (

            Prepared by leading faculty members of Russia’s most prominent Muslim educational institutions with the backing of the Presidential Administration, the book is the latest attempt to define what constitutes “traditional Russian Islam” and to insist that Muslims avoid straying from its basic features.

            Since Stalin restored the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) system in World War II and with increasing intensity since the demise of communism with its anti-religious message, Russian officials have promoted the idea of “traditional Russian Islam” as something in which religious practice is confined to the mosque much as Christian practice often is to the church.

            Many Muslims in Russia and elsewhere object to that. They argue that Islam is an all-embracing faith governing all aspects of life and that Muslims should extend their faith to all aspects of life. Not surprisingly, that is seen as an unwelcome and even dangerous challenge by many non-Muslims in Russia.

            As Muslims have become more numerous and more self-confident, they aren’t willing to keep Islam restricted to the mosque as many Russian officials would like; and consequently, the relationship between the faithful and the state has often been fraught with the former seeing their faith requiring actions that government officials and non-Muslim society oppose.

            This new book seeks to provide a road map for navigating between these positions, arguing that Muslims as Muslims are called to be active participants in civic life but that they must do so as patriots and as citizens committed to living within the limits of the laws of the state.

            It is unlikely that this book or indeed any book will be sufficient to achieve that end. There are simply too many situations in which the interests of the two sides will come into conflict. But the book matters because it is a rare attempt to deal with something both need to deal with.

            On the one hand, this book does support Muslim aspirations to participate in the civic life of Russia rather than remain isolated in mosque or Muslim neighborhood; but on the other, it insists that they must do so as patriots and as citizens obedient to the laws of the state because that is a principle that lies at the basis of Islamic practice.

            Emblematic of that mission, the cover of the textbook features two quotations, one from a saying of the Prophet and the other from the new Russian National Security Doctrine. The first says that when Mohammed was asked about life in society, he responded that “a Muslim is he who does not inflict harm on people by his tongue or his hands.”

            And the second specifies that it is the task of all citizens to strengthen civic unity, all-Russian identity, interethnic and interconfessional concord, and the preservation of the uniqueness of the multi-national people of the Russian Federation.

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