Thursday, June 14, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Wahhabis to Be Found Almost Everywhere in Russia, Silant’yev Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 14 – Roman Silant’yev, the controversial Orthodox historian of contemporary Islam in Russia, said that Wahhabi extremists now are operating throughout the country and thus constitute a threat not only to the country’s traditional Muslims but also to the Russian Federation as a whole.
Although he acknowledged in the current issue of “Nashe Vremya” that “no more than two percent of all Muslims in the country are ‘pure Wahhabis,’” Silant’yev insisted that their real influence is far larger because they have altered the views of many “traditional” Muslims (
They have already infected the views of many “traditional” Muslims who now “follow the ideological views of Wahhabism, having been convinced that by so doing they are in fact confessing traditional Islam” rather than a distorted version inherited from the Soviet anti-religious times.
Silant’yev said that Wahhabis have been most active in the North Caucasus, especially in Daghestan, Chechnya and Karachai-Cherkessia. Recently, they have moved into Kabardino-Balkaria and Stavropol as well. And, he suggested, they have already penetrated not the remainder of that region but even “Russian-populated Stavropol.”
The author of two books about Russian Muslims, the first of which cost him his job as executive secretary of the Inter-Religious Council, said that he “had seen Wahhabi centers on Sakhalin, in Bashkiria and Orenburg, in the cities of the Yamalo-Nenets District, in St. Petersburg, Tomsk, Omsk, Chita, and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy.”
And he added that they are often extremely active even when far from traditional Muslim regions: “In 2001, Wahhabis in Vladivostok declared a jihad against the local mayor. In Vologda, a year later,” he said, t”hey began to compose ‘black lists’ of officials they did not like.”
Arguing that any attempt to reach out to the Wahhabis is considered by them “as a manifestation of weakness,” Silant’yev insisted that the authorities must take a tough line. Enough “time has been wasted,” he said, and in response to questions, he argued that much of the blame for the spread of Wahhabism belongs to Russia’s Muslim leaders.
With the exception of Talgat Tadzhuddin, who heads the traditionalist and often abjectly servile Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD0 in Ufa, the Moscow writer and activist said, many of them are anything but cautious in dealing with the Wahhabis and some of them are openly supportive of that Saudi-originated trend in Islam.
Among the worst of these Silant’yev said, are Ravil’ Gainutdin, who heads the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR) and who was responsible for Silant’yev’s ouster from the Inter-Religious Council, Nafigulla Ashirov, the supreme mufti of the MSD for Asiatic Russia, and Volga MSD leader and Saratov imam Mukkadas Bibarsov.
As he has done before, however, Silant’yev insisted that the problem with contemporary Russian Islam is broader than just the leadership. The faith in the Russian Federation is currently in “the deepest of crises’: There are not enough trained mullahs, and the failure of traditionalists to publish widely has opened the way for the Wahhabis.
But as bad as things are in the Russian Federation, Silant’yev said in response to a question, they may be even worse in Ukraine in general and Crimea in particular. In both places, he said, Muslim leaders are under more pressure from Turkey and Saudi Arabia and thus are more unpredictable and less loyal to the authorities than Russia’s are.
The “Nashe Vremya” journalist ended the interview with a question about Silant’yev’s curent position as director of the Human Rights Center of the World Russian Council. Although that body has its own website (, its existence has remained shadowy.
Silant’yev said that the center he heads has as its core task “the defense of the rights of simple people regardless of nationality or faith. Unfortunately,” he continued, the majority of human rights structures that exist in Russia are not interested in the problems of ordinary citizens.”

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