Vienna, October 23 – Talgat Tadzhuddin, the head of the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) in Ufa and the self-styled supreme mufti of Holy Rus’, is working behind the scenes to construct a “power vertical” for himself and Russia’s Muslims modeled directly on the secular one President Vladimir Putin has erected.
The last of the Soviet-appointed muftis in Russia, Tadzhuddin has generally attracted attention either for his incautious public statements – such as his ill-fated and now retracted fetwa declaring a jihad agains the United States over Iraq – or his behavior – including using a bottle of champagne to “christen” a mosque.
And for those reasons and because of his flamboyant public dress – he is never seen except with an oversized bright green turban – he is often dismissed as a buffoon. But his skills at reading what the country’s political leaders want and in behind-the-scenes bureaucratic infighting are legendary and have kept him in office since 1980.
Now, several hints in the media suggest, he is engaged in what may be his grandest political effort yet, one intended simultaneously to drive from the scene the leaders of rival MSDs and to integrate his Central MSD and its subordinate parts more closely with the Russian state.
Not surprisingly, he has not telegraphed each of his steps in this campaign lest he unintentionally give time for opposition to mobilize against them, but that very fact means that much of what he is doing inevitably remains obscure and what is known all too often stands revealed only by accident or after the fact.
Last December, the Central MSD at Tadzhuddin’s insistence decided to create the position of “main mufti” in each of the seven federal districts that Putin created and to retain for itself the power to appoint its own selections to these posts, a decision reported in the media only in February of this year (http://www.regions.ru/news/2054673).
Then, in March, the Central MSD named Rinat Rayev, the rector of the Islamic university in Chelyabinsk, as the “main mufti of the Urals Federal District” and apparently handed over to him the power to appoint muftis for each of the oblasts and krays there (http://www.ean66.ru/news?/id=20053).
Last week, the full extent of Tadzhuddin’s aspirations became clear when Rayev met with Kurgan Governor Oleg Bogomolov, and the two agreed to work together to eliminate the influence there of Nugman Ashirov, the head of the MSD for Asiatic Russia and someone Moscow and other Muslims have accused of Wahhabism as well as theft.
Bogomolov complained that one of Ashirov’s underlings had misappropriated funds intended for the construction of a mosque and that said that as governor he was prepared to do anything he could “so that [he] would not see this Ashirov anymore in the Urals!” (http://www.kurgan.ru/news/print_version.php?id=1833&tab=news).
Given that Ashirov has been at odds with Tadzhuddin and his organization for a long time – the Siberian is allied with the rival Union of Muftis of Russia and its chief, Ravil’ Gainutdin – that was clearly music to Rayev’s ears, who promptly pressed Bogomolov for more support.
The “main mufti” said that he would like to open a medressa and get the state to certify its graduates. Bogomolov indicated that he could give such an institution a license but pointed out that existing law precluded his providing it on his own with the kind of accreditation Rayev sought.
And then, Rayev called for setting up a representation of his own office in Kurgan to supervise Muslim parishes there. According to the Kurgan.ru, Bogomolov did not respond. But according to Interfax-Religion, the governor approved Rayev’s proposal (http://www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/print.php?news&id=20965).
In this case, the regional news agency is probably the more accurate source, but the Moscow-based Interfax, which often reflects official opinion, may be the more important one, pointing in a direction that reflects how those at the center would like things to go.
But however that may be, the Rayev meeting does provide an intriguing glimpse into Tadzhuddin’s plan, one that would both ally his organization more closely to the state than it has been since Soviet times and exploit that alliance to impose order on the fractious Muslim communities of the Russian Federation.
It thus appears that Tadzhuddin hopes to create a four-tired structure, with the Central MSD (headed by himself) overseeing and appointing the seven “main muftis” in the federal districts. They in turn would oversee and appoint Muslim representations in each oblast, kray and republic, and the latter appoint mullahs and supervise parishes.
Such an arrangement would render the existence of any other MSD superfluous, at least from the point of view of Tadzhuddin and his supporters in the Russian government, and it would dramatically increase the interaction between and the mutual dependence of state structures and Muslim ones at all levels.
Can Tadzhuddin achieve his end? He faces at least three opponents. First, the leaders of other MSDs – there are now more than 60 in the Russian Federation alone – are unlikely to go quietly given that subordinating themselves to Tadzhuddin’s plan would seriously reduce if not eliminate the basis of their power.
Second, there are likely to be many in the government who fear giving Tadzhuddin so much uncontested power. However much they might like the idea of a “Muslim patriarch,” they may ultimately prefer to be able to play divide and power politics among the country’s increasingly large Muslim population.
And third, there are many Muslims, especially among the most intellectually sophisticated, who object to the entire MSD system, a structure lacking any theological justification in Islam, violating the faith’s reliance on elections and also one created and maintained by the Russian state precisely to control its Muslim population.
Representatives of all three can be counted on to speak out frequently and vehemently against Tadzhuddin’s efforts especially as additional parts of it become more visible. And consequently, in the coming months, many observers are likely to conclude that he has lost.
But Tadzhuddin, 59, has often won out despite his public failings because he knows how to operate most effectively out of the public eye – exactly the place that ever more of the most important political transactions now take place in the Russian Federation of his role model Vladimir Putin.