Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Window on Eurasia: New Encyclopedia Uncovers the Muslim Face of Moscow

Paul Goble

Baku, April 2 – The approximately two million Muslims in the Russian capital are just as likely to pray five times a day as are their co-religionists in London and Paris even though Moscow’s Muslims have a much deeper local history, have fewer mosques and are more integrated into the surrounding society than are their Western counterparts.
Those are just a few of the conclusions offered in a just published encyclopedic study, Islam in Moscow (in Russian; Moscow: Medina, 2008), edited by Russian ethnologist Damir Khayretdinov, who described the book in an interview with Islamrf.ru (http://www.islamrf.ru/articles.php?razdel=1&sid=2379).
This volume is the second in a series launched by the Medina publishing house to describe all the major Muslim communities of Russia, he pointed out. The first, which appeared last year, was devoted to Nizhniy Novgorod, and similar encyclopedia-style volumes on Kazan and other centers are scheduled to appear soon.
Moreover, it is not the first study of what some call “Muslim Moscow.” Khayretdinov himself is the author of The Muslim Community of Moscow from the 14th to the Beginning of the 20th Century, and Orientalist Farid Asadullina wrote Muslim Moscow. Both appeared in Russian in the last five years.
But the new encyclopedia is the most comprehensive effort yet to describe the history and current state of the Muslim community from its origins in the Kremlin itself – which once had more than a dozen mosques -- during the time of the Golden Horde up to the present when the community is undergoing explosive growth.
Because it is an encyclopedia rather than a history, the book offers a variety of insights rather than a single comprehensive vision. Among the most important of these concern numbers and origins, impact on the surrounding Russian community at different points in history, and the current situation of the community.
As most students of Islam in Russia do, the new encyclopedia “understands as Muslims [in Moscow] all representatives of ethnic communities which traditionally were associated with the Muslim religion,” Khayretdinov points out. And today, that community numbers close to two million, consisting of both longtime residents and recent migrants.
Not all of these people are practicing Muslims, of course, but various sociological surveys have found that approximately 55 percent of them do pray five times a day as Islam requires, four percent more than do the members of Muslim communities in the British and French capitals.
The first Muslims in Moscow were from the Middle Volga, but despite the widespread view, these Tatars and Bashkirs were never the only followers of Islam there. Others -- including the Nogay and the ancestors of today’s Uzbeks -- had an early presence there, Khayretdinov notes.
Until the time of the Romanov dynasty, the impact of Islam on Russian society and politics was so large that it was simply accepted as entirely normal rather than something exceptional. But the Romanovs sought to present their country as a “European” state and thus tried to ignore or at least downplay this Muslim background.
Despite that, the impact of Islam continued, Khayretdinov points out, in the names of neighborhoods, streets, and families, including many of all three that people today assume are “typically Russian.” And he continues, the encyclopedia documents the ways in which Islam has affected Russian political institutions as well.
“Muscovite statehood incorporated in itself the ideology and attributes of the Muslim empire of the Chingizides,” the Moscow ethnographer says, and neither the Romanovs, nor the Soviets, nor the current Russian government have dispensed with many of these Muslim elements, even though they have “rechristened” them.
But the most obvious if far from the most significant impact of Islam on the Russian capital has come in the last 15 years as the flood of migrants from Muslim regions of the Russian Federation and the former Soviet republics has made Moscow’s face more indelibly Islamic.
That community, Khayretdinov says the encyclopedia documents, is more ethnically diverse than many understand but also more religious as various polls show. Unfortunately, he continues, it is not served by a sufficient number of mosques to handle the needs of believers.
And he comments that one of the encyclopedia’s articles is therefore called “The Unrealized Projects for the Development of Islam,” a study that he suggests makes the book important not only for those interested in the history of Islam in Moscow but for those concerned about its future as well.

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