Monday, November 19, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Muslims Now Get Free Online Help to Defend Their Rights

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 19 – A Moscow law firm has set up a special website to provide Russia’s Muslims with free online consultations concerning their rights and responsibilities and the ways they can use the Russian legal system to defend their rights and advance the cause of Islam.
The M. Lawyers firm has established a website at to provide free legal consultations to Russia’s Muslims about their rights in the workplace and elsewhere under Russian law and about how they can navigate through the legal thicket to set up Muslim organizations.
The site, the first of its kind on the Dot RU domain features an embedded email form allowing Muslims to ask questions about Russian law and the rights it provides Muslims both individually and collectively. And the site promises to answer all queries for free within two working days.
The site’s creation was announced on on Friday. And that news portal, the largest of its kind in the Russian Federation, featured alongside this announcement an interview with one of the M. Lawyers consultants, Tavkhat Abdrakhmanov, who provided answers to five typical questions (
The first question concerned the rights of employers to fire a worker for observing the norms of Islam, including wearing the hijab or performing the five-time daily prayers. Abdrakhmanov said that employers had broad powers to fire people they find personally distasteful and thus could act on this basis in such cases.
Moreover, he said, employers could argue that Muslim actions or even dress represented a violation of workplace discipline, an argument that is supported by law. And wearing the hijab could fall under this provision of the law under certain conditions, albeit not in all.
The second question involved the right of the faithful to say prayers at work and to request special breaks for this. According to Abdrakhmanov, believers have the right to use their breaks for prayer but the timing and frequency of such breaks are things that must be established through negotiation.
The third question concerned where Muslims have the right to pray at the workplace. Abdrakhmanov said that employers are required to provide clean places for their workers to take breaks and thus to pray under such circumstances. If they do not, then workers have the right to appeal to the authorities or the courts.
The fourth question to Abdrakhmanov was “what legal rights does a Muslim have for the observation of religious obligations in hospitals, birthing houses and other medical institutions?” According to the lawyer, Muslims like other citizens have the right to practice their religion unless that gets in the way of the managers of such facilities.
They can thus bring in halal food but cannot demand that the institutions provide it, they can arrange for visits by Muslim leaders, and they can seek out their own doctors for deliveries of babies but cannot demand that the hospitals or birthing facilities arrange for those the Muslim community approves.
And the fifth hypothetical question concerned the rights of Muslims to form religious communities to advance their faith. Abdrakhmanov said that Russian law allows Muslims to form religious groups, communities and organizations relatively easily even if they do not have the approval of muftis.
He described some of the ways but noted that often Muslims do not know their rights or the procedures that must be followed to force the authorities at the local or regional level to observe them. It is not so much that the latter will oppose them, he continued, but rather that there are relatively few precedents to guide everyone involved.
The creation of this website is important not only because it will allow Muslims to learn about their rights more easily but also because it will provide clear guidance on where their rights may be being violated or not protected by Russian law. But there is a third and even more significant aspect of the apperance of this new venue.
As Abdrakhmanov’s comments suggest, Russian law in this area is still in its infancy – he pointedly notes that religious freedom is “not a legal norm but rather a moral one” – and that Muslims need to bring more cases in order that the courts will be in a position to create the precedents necessary for such freedom to come into being.
That may encourage more Muslims to do just that, and it may also prompt more of Russia’s law firms and legal consultation agencies to begin to provide the kind of services M. Lawyers now has to both individual Muslims and groups of believers in the ever growing Islamic community of the Russian Federation.

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