Staunton, May 16 -- Although the number of Muslims in the Donets Peoples Republic and Luhansk Peoples Republic is small, the Russian authorities want to integrate them into the Russian umma in order to prevent Ukraine’s Muslim leaders from exercising any influence over them.
But Moscow’s efforts to do so which began in 2014 face serious problems that raise larger questions not only about the future of Islam in Russian-occupied portions of Ukraine but also about the organizational structure of official, that is, state-recognized, Islamic structures in the Russian Federation itself.
In NG-Religii, Rais Suleymanov, a specialist on Islam who has offended many Muslims by his attacks on Islamic leaders, says that the decision to integrate the Muslims of the Donbass into the Russian umma raises two serious questions to which at present there are no certain answers (ng.ru/ng_religii/2022-05-17/9_529_muslims.html).
On the one hand, there is no single Muslim hierarchy in the Russian Federation but a plethora of Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs), one must ask just what the Muslims of the Donbass are being integrated into. Up to now, Moscow has sought to avoid facing this issue by having the Muslims of the two work with different centralized MSDs in the Russian capital.
But that is only a temporary expedient, the specialist on Islam suggests, an indication that perhaps Putin’s war in Ukraine will precipitate changes within the structures of Islam in the Russian Federation and lead to the creation of a single supreme MSD to which all other Muslim organizations in that country would be subordinate.
And on the other, as Suleymanov notes, “the legislation of the Russian Federation does not allow Russian religious organizations to legally include within themselves structures of other countries but does not prohibit talk about canonical unity with them.” That is the loophole that the ROC MP uses to control Orthodox in many post-Soviet countries.
If the DNR and LNR are themselves annexed by the Russian Federation as Moscow has illegally annexed Crimea, their Muslims would be integrated into centralized MSDs in Moscow much as other MSDs across Russia are. But if they remain “independent” albeit unrecognized states, they present yet another challenge.
Suleymanov traces the truly Byzantine changes that have affected the organizations of these communities over the last eight years. But it is his comments about the larger issues that are the more important, especially because the number of Muslims and mosques in these two predominantly Slavic areas is small, amounting to no more than a few dozen.
But the Russian specialist does point to one aspect of the situation that may cause even more trouble: Ukraine’s Muslims like Ukraine itself has a tradition in which elections matter as Islam requires and in which there is a regular rotation of cadres at the top, a very different pattern than is the case in Russia where Muslim leaders like political ones tend to serve for life.