Baku, May 7 – Sultan Mirzayev, the head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of the Chechen Republic, told the council of ulema in Grozny on Monday that all mullahs in that republic will have to secure his office’s approval of the texts of their Friday sermons before they deliver them, lest their words lead the young astray or promote extremism.
In reporting his order, Islamnews.ru said that his demand recalled the way things were done in Soviet times, although the agency pointed out that Mirzayev had not specified “who precisely will check the texts of the preachers” or where they will obtain the criteria they will apply in doing so (www.islamnews.ru/news-11530.html).
But Mirzayev gave some indication of the reasons for his directive and the role that public officials in the government of Ramzan Kadyrov may play in implementing it: “From now on, we must crack down hard on anything that gives rise to religious extremism,” he said, and to that end, “we must continue to work in close contact with the local authorities.”
The Kadyrov-controlled Grozny-inform.ru agency reported that the elders in the MSD’s council of the ulema were enthusiastic, although it is far from clear why they should want to give up the rights that they had only recently recovered after the end of communism and the collapse of the Soviet Union (www.grozny-inform.ru/main.mhtml?Part=11&PubID=6679).
One of the reasons they may be going along is that Mirzayev also used the meeting to announce that Grozny plans to boost the number of Chechens going on the haj from just over 3,000 last year to 5,000 this and to put them under the leadership of Chechen MSD officials who “speak Arabic fluently.”
Both the increased number and the plan for Chechen control reflect Kadyrov’s own statements, but they put him and Chechnya at odds not only with Moscow but with other Muslim regions in the Russian Federation.
On the one hand, the Chechens are planning to send more this year even though the Saudi-imposed quota for the Russian Federation as a whole has fallen from an exceptional 26,000 to 20,500. Consequently, for Chechnya to reach that goal, other Muslim republics will have to cut their number, something they will be most unhappy to do.
And on the other, at a time when Moscow, under pressure from various Muslim groups to improve its support of Russian hajis, is increasing its control over the pilgrimage even as it increases its aid, the Chechen call for local people who know Arabic to lead the Chechen hajis represents yet another challenge to the center.
That this is a very serious challenge is underscored by the comment of Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Soltanov last weekend when, accepting complaints sent in by the Russian Islamic Inheritance organization at the end of February, he said that the Russian government must take control of the process (www.islamnasledie.ru/news.php?id=1076).
As Islamnews.ru commented in its report, there have not yet any reactions from other Muslim leaders in the Russian Federation to Mirzayev’s plan to control the content of Muslim sermons in Chechnya. These leaders likely are waiting to see whether Moscow will defer to Kadyrov and Mirzayev or whether, finally, the Grozny group has gone too far.