Vienna, July 2 – The Moscow military newspaper “Krasnaya zvezda” reported without comment on Saturday that Muslims now form 15 percent of all uniformed personnel in the Russian army, a figure more than twice as high than the ones officials have used in the past and one certain to generate controversy.
This statistic is not without problems. According to the paper, 83 percent of Russia’s soldiers today are Orthodox Christians, 15 percent Muslims and three percent followers of other religions, for a total of 101 percent. But more importantly, there is no mention of atheists or agnostics (http://www.redstar.ru/2007/06/30_06/2_01.html).
And that in turn means that these numbers, including the one for Muslims, reflect either the percentages of those soldiers and officers who have declared a belief or what is more likely the assignment of military personnel to one of these three categories on the basis of nationality, with Slavs being listed as Orthodox and Turkic groups as Muslims.
But even if these qualifications are true, the appearance of this number in “Krasnaya zvezda” in its report on a national meeting about religious life in the military is likely to be read by many as authoritative, especially as the army has tended in the past to understate the number of Muslims in the ranks.
As significant as that acknowledgement of the country’s demographic shift that is now affecting the military most directly, another speech at this meeting last week may prove to be even more important, even though it was not reported by “Krasnaya zvezda” but rather by the Russian Orthodox Church’s own portal on the military.
Pobeda.ru ran the complete text of the speech by Valiulla khazrat Yakupov, the first deputy chairman of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Tatarstan, who described what his MSD is doing to work with the military and called for other Muslim groups to become more active as well (http://www.pobeda.ru/content/view/6088/21/).
Yakupov noted that his MSD has its own department for work with the force structures that is headed by former Lt. Col. Timur Khazrat Ibragimov, and suggested that it was thus “no accident” that Tatarstan won second place in a 2006 competition for the best-prepared draftees.
Unfortunately, he continued, there are no similar structures in the MSDs at the federal level, a swipe at both the Moscow-based Union of Muftis of Russia headed by Ravil’ Gainutdin and the Ufa-based Central MSD headed by Talgat Tadzhuddin. “Let us hope,” Yakupov said, “that [such structures] will appear already in this year.”
Noting that the Russian Empire had a long history of including mullahs in the military and pointing out that the first demand of Muslim soldiers presented to the Provisional Government in 1917 was the provision of more mullahs and imams, Yakupov said there should not be any problem in restoring these arrangements.
And he argued that both the Russian state and Russia’s Muslims themselves had a vested interest in seeing this happen: the Russian state because such arrangements will help to fully integrate Muslims into one of the most important institutions of Russian life, and Russia’s Muslims because it will help them to escape harmful foreign influences.
“Unfortunately,” he noted, “massive foreign influence continues to play a major role in domestic religious processes of the establishment of Russian Muslim organizational structures” – even though Russia’s Muslims have a rich and distinctly Russian set of traditions.
By supporting the establishment of a network of well-trained Muslim leaders in the Russian military, the Tatar MSD leader said, Russian commanders would thus be helping themselves, their soldiers and their country more effectively than they might by doing anything else.