Vienna, June 8 – The ideas that Muslims trained abroad or trained by Islamic missionaries inside the Russian Federation espouse not only cause problems for the Islamic community there but represent a security threat to the country as a whole, according to a senior Russian official.
Speaking at a Russian education ministry conference yesterday on training specialists in the history and culture of Islam, Vladimir Zorin, the deputy Presidential plenopotentiary in the Volga Federal District, pointed to this threat in order to argue that the state should provide funds to re-establish a serious Muslim training system in Russia.
Zorin, who has written widely on ethnic and religious issues, argued that the current problems reflected the unfortunate fact that “measures for reestablishing the system of [Muslim] education were not taken in a timely manner on the territory of contemporary Russia” (http://www.pfo.ru/?id=12593).
In the 1990s, he said, “the efforts undertaken by the Muslim leaders were insufficient.” And because there emerged “a real chance for young people to travel for instruction in Turkey, the Middle East and Arab world,” the preparation of Russia’s Muslim leaders has taken place almost exclusively abroad.
That problematic “situation was intensified by the fact that as a result of the policies of a number of Muslim countries, there was established within Russia an entire net of educational and quasi-educational institutions for Muslims, which operated both openly and without advertising their work to prepare future imams and muftis.”
And, Zorin stressed, it remains the case even now that “the preparation of Muslim leaders abroad for Russia continues unabated.”
That by itself might not be a problem, Zorin continued, were it not for the unfortunate reality that many of those doing the training were hostile both to the traditional forms of Islam found among Russia’s Muslims and all too often to the Russian Federation itself.
“The programs and coursework which serve as the basis for the training of Russians in Muslim academic institutions in Turkey, Kuwait, Jordan, and Qatar,” the Russian official said, “include content that is hostile to the social and political foundations on which Russia is based.”
“As a result, after several years of instruction in this way, young, educated and active” imams and mullahs with “negative or even hostile” attitudes towards their own country “return to work among Muslims there.” Not surprisingly, those trained abroad then disseminate many of the ideas they have acquired.
The influence of such foreign ideas is currently all the greater among that community and could grow as they rise through its ranks, Zorin argues, precisely because “no alternative to this system of training has yet been established within Russia.”
To deal with this problem, Zorin proposed the following steps: First of all, he said, Russia’s Ministry of Education should begin to “study and then generalize the experience of the functioning of the system of Muslim education in Russia in the 19th and 20th century.”
On the basis of its findings, Zorin said, the government should provide direct assistance to Muslim institutions in the Russian Federation, as well as methodological help “in preparing academic plans and programs. And it should help finance “the training of specialists on Arabic and on the history of the Muslim religion and culture in Russia.”
Muslim leaders throughout Russia have urged just such steps for a long time, but they have seldom found much support among officials fearful of breaching the wall between church and state or of offending the powerful leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Zorin’s speech is thus important as an indication that senior Russian officials are now thinking what had been unthinkable: providing direct state aid to build a domestic Islamic training system so that Russia's Muslims seeking education will not conclude that their only choice lies abroad.