Friday, November 16, 2007

Window on Eurasia: New Russian NGO Works to Integrate Muslims from ‘Far Abroad’

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 16 – More than 70 percent of the 300,000 immigrants in Moscow who come from countries outside of the former Soviet space are Muslims, and they now have their own non-governmental organization working to help them to integrate into Russian life.
Founded at the end of February 2007, the Federation of Immigrants of Russia includes immigrants from 26 countries, but because so many of them are Muslims, they are its primary focus, according to its president, a longtime Moscow resident from Bangladesh who is now a Russian citizen, Muhammad Amin Majumder.
In an interview posted on the Islam.rf website yesterday, Majumder said that its members were mostly “former students” like himself who came to the Soviet Union or to the Russian Federation, found work and wives, became Russian cities, and remained (
After coming to the USSR 21 years ago, he continued, he married a Russian woman who decided to convert to Islam less to please him and his family than because he asked her to compare the Bible and the Koran and she found the latter more sympathetic, although some among her circle do not and she has kept her faith “in her heart.”
Majumder said that far more Russian women who married Muslim immigrants would have converted to Islam in the past had services in Moscow’s mosques been conducted in Russian rather than Arabic or Tatar as was the case until the mid-1990s and had Russian attitudes against Muslims not been inflamed by the war in Chechnya.
But now, he said, Muslims from “the far abroad” face new and different challenges, even though he insisted that because of the country’s demographic problems and much improved economic prospects, “Russia needs immigrants” just as much as “the immigrants need Russia.”
On the one hand, Russia’s economy is now growing rapidly, and the country needs new workers, especially since by the end of this decade, working age men will be declining by a million a year or more. If the country is to move forward, it needs the commitment to hard work that only immigrants can bring.
And on the other, most of Russia’s Muslims tend to ignore immigrants from beyond the former Soviet space. The recent Muslim forum in Moscow, for example, committed itself to integrating Muslims from elsewhere in the CIS but made no mention of those from the Middle East or South Asia.
Both because of these realities and because of the negative attitude of some Russians to those with a different skin color or religious faith, Majumder said, he and others like him had formed the new NGO to work with them and their government to integrate this community and thereby help Russia at the same time.
The Federation, he noted, is “an instrument of civil society which is in the process of coming into being and strengthening in Russia.” It thus serves as a bridge between the individual immigrant, Russian citizen or not, and state institutions like the Federal Migration Service and the Russian parliament.
Majumder indicated that his group has particularly close relations with Senator Vladimir Slutsker, who chairs the joint commission on nationality policy and cooperation with religious organizations in the Council of the Federation and who believes that “our federation” can help promote the integration of new arrivals.
He has been most helpful, the NGO leader said, but “the millions of immigrants in Russia need the assistance of the state for their adaptation and integration into Russian society,” a task whose resolution is equally important for the immigrants and for the broader Russian community.
Responding to a final question about how his group reacts to those Russians who would like to see all immigrants other than ethnic Russians like themselves go home, Majumder said that he and his fellow Federation leaders – and he provides a list of the top 15 – tell them that they need to remember their history.
“For centuries,” he pointed out, “Great Russia has been enriched by the Ruriks from Scandinavia, by the German colony in Moscow, by the Danes Vitus Bering and Vladimir Dal, by numerous German scholars, and by Lermontov with all his Scottish family roots.”
And the best Russian leaders, including Peter I and Catherine II, have recognized the important contribution such immigrants can make, this Bangladeshi with a Russian passport said. But, he continued, “the clearest example of what an immigrant can give [to Russia and the Russians] is to be found elsewhere.”
It involves those immigrants from Africa, out of which sprang “the genius of Russian literature, Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin.”.
Copnsequently, Majumder said, he and his colleagues tell Russians to remember that “Russia is now again on the rise, it needs people who love to work – and no small part of its emerging success will depend precisely on the future ‘Pushkins’” that immigrants to Russia can be counted on to produce.

No comments: