What is the future of Islam in Russia?
By Abdullah Rinat Mukhametov, deputy editor of Islam.Ru, special to Prague Watchdog
The briefest and plainest answer to the question of whether Islam has a future in Russia is that it probably has, for the simple reason that the number of Muslims in our country is increasing. Islam has existed within the Russian state for many centuries, and has experienced much tougher times than now. But during the coming decade the Muslim community needs to resolve a number of fundamental issues.
According to a report by the Carnegie Foundation, as a result of migration and demographics by 2030 approximately half of Russia’s population will be at least in some way Muslim. However, a number of potential threats need to be faced. These include isolationism and jihadism. While it is unlikely that they will dominate, they are wearing on the nerves and may easily sap our strength. I do not think that the majority of Russia’s Muslims will suddenly be gripped by isolationist sentiments expressed in a desire for dissociation from the world of kufr (unbelief) within a separate state or quasi-ghetto. For one thing, that is impossible, because the nature of the modern world prevents even the most shuttered regime from sealing itself off from outside. For another, Russia’s Muslims are scattered across the country and are not likely to flock together in some sort of Sharia-led state. Jihadism with its simple answers to the most complex questions and its vulgar black-and-white solutions will continue to be alarming. But over time common sense, which debunks the utopias that inevitably turn everything into an Afghanistan or a Somalia, will be joined by the theologically sound alternative of "creative jihad”.
In my opinion we are presently witnessing the birth of a real Russian Ummah – a single community linked by various institutions (religious, educational, legal, political, medical, economic, etc.). The only problem is how long the process will take, and whether it will be successful. At present most of the institutions of Russia’s Muslims do not meet the demands of the times. The new century requires fresh approaches aimed at renewal and development. Russia’s Muslim organizations need to develop a dialogue with Muslims themselves, involving not only intellectuals but also young people and activists and encouraging them to use their resources in the fields of social service, social and scientific activities, culture and education. Civic education is needed to improve the quality of the work of Muslim organizations – Muslims must develop the appropriate skills and technology and train skilled personnel capable of working to help the whole of society.
Russia’s Ummah is experiencing growing pains. Its division greatly complicates the process of establishing Islam in Russia. The migration factor has made itself felt in many parts of the country, often not in the most positive way, leading to negative judgements about Islam on the part of non-Muslims, who perceive Muslims as “migrants” beset by illiteracy, insecurity, poverty, crime and so on. But migration does, of course, also offer a chance to raise the status of Islam in Russia. For this to come about, the different groups of Muslims will have to unite and build effective institutions that work to benefit not only their own community but all Russians, regardless of their religious beliefs. For example, there is a huge gap between the Muslims of the Volga and the Urals (the dar-ut-Tatar) and the Muslims of the North Caucasus (the dar-ul-Kavkaz). They often develop in parallel, and there is a danger that they will eventually form not one Ummah but two, quite different from each other – especially if events in the North Caucasus follow the worst case scenario.
In the end, I think that what will form in Russia is a sort of lobby, a centre that expresses the position of the country’s Muslims. Individuals, groups and leaders who are so different can come together only on the platform of Islam, a shared Islamic culture, a common historical heritage and a common vision of the future which derives from their common religious background. What is needed is something like a Russian Muslim Congress, a representative body that lobbies for the political and other interests of the Ummah at the highest state level. The members of this body do not necessarily have to be deeply religious, but they must be "Ummah patriots”, “Islamic Russian patriots". The body’s ideology could be a combination of social federalism (social justice, democracy plus federal and regional development, aimed at overcoming Russia's monstrous centralization of everything in Moscow) with Islamic moral and cultural values addressed openly and equally to all people regardless of religion – an ideological equivalent of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party under its leader Tayyip Erdogan.
Russia’s Muslims must get rid of their ghetto mentality. Islam addresses the entire population of Russia, and accordingly must contribute to the common cause, to the improvement of people’s lives, to the solving of problems everywhere in the country. Islam should not be understood as a separate ideological superstructure founded on ethno-religious, property or corporate interests. On the other hand, the role of Islam and Muslims in our country needs to be recognized by the Russian state and society, in keeping with their contribution to building a common home.
No Muslim in Russia should feel like an alien, nor should Russia feel that Islam and Muslims reject it. Although to some extent this process is already taking place spontaneously, it needs the legitimization of the state.
Photo: "Nash Mir".
(Translation by DM)
© 2010 Prague Watchdog (see Reprint info).