Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Muslims ‘Unmask’ Russia’s Father Frost at Kurban Bayram Party

Paul Goble

Baku, January 9 – Muslims in the Russian Federation are now doing what many religious and ethnic minorities in other countries have done in the past: organizing special parties for their children timed to coincide with the festivals of the locally dominant culture to ensure that their offspring will be better able to resist its blandishments.
Three days ago, on Russian Christmas Eve, Muslim activists in Moscow organized a special children’s celebration of the Islamic holiday, Kurban Bayram. But in contrast to such gatherings in the past, this one was intended to combine fun with a clearly defined message (
Instead of just listening to readings of the Koran or saying prayers, activities that might not have attracted the youngest members of the Muslim community, organizers hired professional clowns and actors and encouraged the children to run about and play games.
But the meeting came with a message. According to the report, the youngsters were shown “a happy play about Father Frost, who by mistake shows up at a Kurban Bayram celebration.” And in the course of this play, “the children learn that Father Frost is not a Muslim hero and not a magician but simply a fellow in fancy dress.”
One of the session’s organizers, Galina Al’shabakh of the Golubushka Muslim Women’s Organization, said that the goal of the celebration was “to explain to children what Kurban Bayram is so that they would not confuse it with the [Russian] New Year” or with any other holiday.
And she noted that the celebration had been specifically directed at Muslim families with three or more children who may have been suffering the Russian version of cabin fever over the long winter break. Not only was the group able to find sponsors,but parents were eager to pay the 200 rubles (8 U.S. dollars) allocated for the presents.
After the gathering was over, Al'shabakh said that it was obvious from “the happy faces of the children” and “the satisfied parents” that such parties where young people “can learn both about Kurban Bayram and about Father Frost are undoubtedly useful” and should be arranged not only next year in Moscow but elsewhere in Russia as well.
There are some preliminary indications that some Muslim groups elsewhere have already begun to do the same time. In Saratov oblast, Muslim activists organized a winter camp for children aged 8 to 16 to teach them about Islam and to contrast its principles and practices with other faiths (
Mufti Mukaddas Khazrat Bibarsov of the Volga Region Muslim Spiritual Directorate, supported the organizers of this camp and suggests that “similar measures need to be carried out as frequently as possible in all regions of the country and to involve as many young men and women as possible.”
If the Muslim response to such efforts has been overwhelmingly positive, it is as yet unclear how Orthodox Christian Russians will view what some of them will certainly see as an attack on their culture and an indication that the Muslims of the Russian Federation increasingly seek not integration into the broader society but separation.
That is all the more likely because many Orthodox Russians and especially the Russian Orthodox Church currently view their own Christmas traditions as threatened by Western commercialism, something they associate with increasing invocations of the values of the U.S.-style Santa Claus ( ).
Consequently, Russian anger about commercialism and Russian anger about Muslims are likely, if unexpectedly, to prove mutually reinforcing, making each more more difficult for those who feel it to change for those who are threatened by it to defend themselves against

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