Baku, January 15 – Twenty years ago, practicing Muslims in the Russian Federation were generally confined to the lowest strata of the workforce, but today, the number who are getting advanced degrees and moving into the professions is doubling every three to four years, according to a new study.
In 1993 when he began his observations, Dmitriy Makarov writes in a study published in the yearbook, Islam in the Contemporary World, no. 7 (Moscow, 2007, in Russian), one could count the practicing Muslims among the Russian intellectual class on the fingers of one hands (http://www.islam.ru/pressclub/analitika/nenirom/).
And that reality contributed to the image of Muslims that not only ordinary Russians but also many academic specialists on Islam continue to have of the community, as a backward community with little evidence of genuine educational achievement, Makarov says. But that stereotype, if perhaps justified earlier, is no longer true.
He argues that alongside the growth in the number of mosques and registered Islamic communities, there has been and continues to be an extraordinarily “growth in the intellectual potential of Islam in Russia,” however few data about this have been collected in the past.
Makarov, who identifies himself as a publicist, said that when he began his research on this question, he quickly learned that the government had not collected any data on the number of Muslims with advanced degrees or in the professions and that Muslims themselves had not carried out any large-scale sociological studies in this area.
Consequently, he had to make use of personal contacts and chance observation as he sought to determine how many Muslims had received advanced degrees or entered the professions, an approach that almost certainly means that his reported numbers are less, possibly significantly less, than the actual figures.
When he started his research, the number of Muslims in these two categories was extremely small but the situation in both changed dramatically beginning in the mid-1990s with this upward trend continuing and possibly accelerating since the end of that decade.
Moreover, Makarov said, the nature of the Muslim community in the Russian Federation meant that both at the beginning of his research and later, practicing Muslims not only knew about which Muslims were getting degrees and entering the professions but were proud to tell him about it.
Unlike non-Muslim Russian society which was atomized during the 1990s by the shocks of social and political change, Muslim society there – and here Makarov is talking about those who practice their faith on a regular basis and not “ethnic” Muslims – was virtually “a big village” whose members communicated with one another frequently.
By 1998, he reports, the number of practicing Muslims in teaching positions in major universities and Academy of Science institutions was as follows: five historians, two biologists, two philosophers, as well as a medical researcher, economist, political scientist, art specialist and philologist.
Ethnically nine of thee practicing Muslims were Tatars or Bashkirs, three were new converts to the faith (Russians and Ukrainians, and two were Daghestanis, Makarov says. In addition to those, there were many others in the state-accredited Muslim universities of Kazan, Moscow and Makhachkala whom Makarov chose not to include.
He says he also decided not to include in his count Muslims of foreign origin who received their training in the USSR or Russia and continue to live in the Russian Federation and Muslim academics who are citizens of other former Soviet republics who live there.
Neither of these groups is the product of Russia’s Muslim community at least in the narrow sense, he continues, although each of them has played a role in helping the indigenous Muslims to develop their intellectual capacity either by direct assistance or as a model of what can be done.
Since that time, practicing Muslims on the teaching staff of the major universities of Moscow and other Russian cities have further increased in number and now include in addition specialists on ecology, psychology, Arabic language, management, administration, economics, jurisprudent and philosophy.
“Over the past 15 years,” Makarov concludes, “the Muslim community of Russia has traversed a colossal path in the direction of intellectual development.” Moreover, it will continue to grow “in geometrical progression,” transforming the community from a marginal and low status one to a group at the center of Russia’s intellectual life.
And what is more, he says, the new Muslim intelligentsia in Russia is “distinguished by a heightened level of social activity and responsibility,” qualities that should but not always are being exploited by either the Muslim community itself or the Russian state. Indeed, he says, sometimes neither appears to appreciate this new group.
But Makarov’s study, however incomplete as he himself acknowledges, should help to change that not only by attracting the attention of both to the rise of a Muslim intelligentsia in Russia but also by encouraging other scholars to focus on this trend and drop the stereotypes that so many of them employ about the faithful there.