Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Muslim Forum Publishes New Action Plan, Appeal to Putin

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 7 – Russia’s Muslims currently seek a far higher profile in their country’s national life than they have had up to now, according to provisions of a resolution adopted by the Third All-Russian Muslim Forum and that body’s public address to President Vladimir Putin.
Three of that meeting’s decisions – to create a Russia-wide Ulema Council, a League of Muslim Journalists, and a new continuing body to define the goals of the Russian umma – were already announced in media reporting on its November 1-4 deliberations.
But with the release of its resolution ( and its open letter to Putin (, that body’s specific goals and its effort to position itself in the Russian social and political system are far clear.
According to the resolution, its participants want, in addition to the steps announced earlier, to push for the creation of a new ministry for religious affairs, organize the next Muslim forum in Ufa and another meeting in Uzbekistan, and use the Muslim spiritual directorates (MSDs) and mosques to integrate immigrants.
And according to the open letter to Putin, the Muslims at this meeting support his policies so much that they hope the Russian constitution will be changed so that he can remain in office, as the citizens of Russia, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, so overwhelmingly want.
If the last of these ideas is not terribly controversial and if the resolution itself talks mostly in upbeat terms about the growing role of Muslims in Russian life, each of the specific goals now being announced puts the Forum and its organizers in the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR) on a collision course with a variety of other groups.
By urging the creation of a new ministry for religious affairs, this meeting has put itself at odds with the Russian Orthodox Church whose leaders oppose the establishment of any state agency for religion because such an institution would limit the Moscow Patriarchate’s freedom of action and elevate the status of other faiths.
By suggesting that the next Muslim Forums should be in Ufa and Tashkent, the participants are taking direct aim at the Central MSD which is based in Ufa, is headed by Supreme Mufti Talgat Tajuddin who opposes the SMR, and presumes to speak for Russia’s Muslims in discussions with those in other post-Soviet states.
And by arguing that Muslim religious institutions should help integrate immigrants from Muslim countries, the Forum is challenging the state’s prerogatives in this area (ones that the authorities are not fulfilling very well, it should be said) and undoubtedly angering many Russians who oppose immigration’s Islamic component.
That the Forum’s leadership felt confident enough to advance these goals, especially in such a public way, appears to reflect a belief among the Muslims there that the election season is the perfect time to float such ideas because their increasing numbers mean that at least some politicians will pick up on what they say.
Whether this calculation and the pro-Kremlin rhetoric in which the resolution and open letter are cast will prove sufficient to achieve these policy goals, of course. is far from clear. But compared to the resolutions issued by other Muslim meetings in Russia since 1991, this one is at least potentially the most far-reaching in its implications.

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